The Power of the State

State Rep. Jason Fischer’s auditing committee has again targeted a political opponent. In this case, it’s a consulting firm run by Ben Marcus, who is challenging Fischer’s re-election in District 16. Fischer claims it’s just a coincidence, but due to his history of weaponizing audits, people are rightfully skeptical.

In 2017, after Duval County Public Schools was forced to dip into its reserves, Fischer called repeatedly for an audit of the district’s finances. The move was widely seen as payback after the school board joined a lawsuit against HB 7069, which dramatically expanded charter schools. Fischer never mentioned it at the time, but the audit targeted the last budget he worked on before he quit the school board to run for state office. Fischer claimed the district went over budget. While it’s true that DCPS had to dip into reserves, the district never went under the statutory 3 percent it is required to maintain.

Speaking of payback, Fischer also has a way of going after his political foes. Exhibit A is the recent J-1 bill. During the referendum battle, DCPS Superintendent Diana Greene and the school board refused to give in to demands to send hundreds of millions to charter schools (one of which owes Fischer’s super-donor Gary Chartrand millions of dollars). Fischer’s first iteration of the J-1 bill targeted school board membership, proposing appointment over election; then he revised the language to target the position of superintendent.

This isn’t the first time Fischer has been embroiled in controversy either. When he first ran for school board, people complained that he presented himself as a Navy veteran. He isn’t, and he was forced to clarify that he was just an employee.

Furthermore, a few months ago Action News Jax revealed that Fischer didn’t park in metered parking when visiting Jacksonville City Hall but instead parked in the crosswalk, blocking foot traffic. That might seem trivial, but what he has accomplished in Tallahassee isn’t. There, Fischer has been known for two things: championing school voucher and charter legislation (to the benefit of his chief donors) and funneling millions to Chartrand’s charter school.

Shortly after Fischer was elected to the state house, he took a job with one of John Kirtley’s companies. Kirtley is the state voucher king. He runs Step Up for Students, which has funneled billions to the state’s lightly regulated voucher schools. His cut: 3 percent. Not bad. Fischer has also funneled more than 5 million dollars in extra public money to the KIPP school, which is a pretty good return of investment on the five figures that Chartrand has given to Fischer and his super PAC.

Then there are his donors. Since December 2018, Fischer has raised more than $164,000 for his re-election campaign and a similar amount for his super PAC. Impressive, but some 90 percent of this money comes from outside District 16—and hardly any of it was contributed by actual people. The vast majority comes from businesses: tens of thousands from charter school interests and other PACs. This is all documented publicly on the Duval Supervisor of Elections’ website.

When asked for comment, Ben Marcus said, “My consulting firm serving nonprofits was chosen for audit by the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee chaired by my opponent, Jason Fischer. I very much hope it was a random selection like I was told, because the implications otherwise are quite serious.”

“Instead of talking about the audit,” he continued, “I want to talk about the issues impacting our district and hope Rep. Fischer can find himself to a debate this cycle. Our schools are in need of major help, inside and out; flooding is pervasive across the district; and big money special interests run amok in Tallahassee.”

Candidates can disagree on policy—that’s to be expected—but Fischer frequently seems to go far beyond that. He seems to be using his position to disproportionately benefit his donors and attack his political foes for self-serving ends, and that fact doesn’t change whether this new surprise audit ends up being a coincidence or not.