Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who is running to be governor, was caught on tape saying that a bill providing public funding to private schools was “bad public policy” but that he helped it become law to stop a rival from getting millions of dollars from a foundation, according to two news reports.
The secret recording was obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV, both of which reported that Cagle said: “Is it bad public policy? Between you and me, it is. And I can tell you how it is [in] a thousand different ways.”
The recording was made by Clay Tippins, a Republican businessman and former Navy SEAL who lost to Cagle in the May Republican gubernatorial primary. Tippins gave it to journalists, who quoted him as saying he did so to provide “a window into Casey Cagle’s character.”
Tippins and Cagle were talking about whether Tippins would support the lieutenant governor in a June 24 runoff, and Tippins said he secretly recorded the conversation on an iPhone in his coat pocket.
Cagle can be heard talking about an education tax credit he helped push through as head of the Georgia Senate. The legislation raised the cap on tax credits from $58 million to $100 million in a program that allows eligible citizens and corporations in Georgia to receive the credits for donating money to “student scholarship organizations.” Those programs help students pay for tuition at private and religious schools.
Such programs are highly controversial, with critics saying they drain critical resources from traditional public school districts. They also say private schools that benefit are not subject to the same anti-discrimination laws and other regulations that apply to public schools. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is a big supporter of these programs.
The two news outlets reported that Cagle told Tippins that he actually opposed the law.
But he helped get it through the Senate anyway to prevent a political rival from getting millions of dollars in financial support from an organization he identified as the Walton Family Foundation. The foundation is a big supporter of charter schools and school voucher and tax credit programs that use public funds for private-school tuition, though it told the newspaper it did not contribute to candidates in the race.
The legislation, House Bill 217, had passed in the Georgia House but was stalled in the Senate Education Committee by its chairman, Sen. Lindsey Tippins, the uncle of Clay Tippins, who opposed it. Cagle can be heard on the recording saying that in the past he opposed the legislation but decided to help get it passed — via another committee with a pro-tax-credit chairman — to prevent $3 million in foundation money from going to a rival in the primary. That candidate came in third; only the top two candidates get into the runoff. Clay Tippins came in fourth.
Cagle said on the tape: “Exactly the reason I told Lindsey that you need to listen to: It ain’t about public policy. It’s about s— politics. There’s a group that was getting ready to put $3 million behind Hunter Hill.”
WSB published a statement from Cagle saying in part:
I had a good meeting with Clay. He had a lot of questions and I openly and honestly answered them all. I’m a longtime and consistent supporter of conservative reforms that expand school choice. When a school choice bill failed in 2017, I promised advocates I’d work to get a bill passed in 2018. That’s exactly what I did. I kept my word. The bill wasn’t perfect — and I said that to Clay — but we reached a broad agreement, while no side got everything it wanted. For me, I would like to see scholarships focused more directly on children in financial need.