• 9 Investigates: Tampa-based group pours money into Volusia school board campaign


    TAMPA, Fla. - A statewide organization with national ties to the controversial school choice movement is pouring an estimated tens of thousands of dollars into a Volusia County school board race.
    Channel 9's Lori Brown dug into why a political committee based in Tampa is taking an interest in a Volusia County race.
    Volusia County School Board member Diane Smith believes the Tampa-based group is working to defeat her because of her tough stand against a program that diverts millions of tax dollars to private schools.
    9 investigates exposed a revealing video in November, where Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up for Students, nonprofit that's received more than $1 billion tax dollars since 2002, unveiled his political strategy.
    "We have a PAC, a PAC Florida Federation for Children. One of the primary reasons we've been so successful, we spend about $1 million dollars every other election cycle in local political races, which in Florida is a lot of money," Tuthill said in the video.
    Now that PAC is spending thousands of dollars on a Volusia County school board race.
    In addition to a television ad, the PAC sent out mailers on behalf of Melody Johnson, challenger to Smith.
    "We fight so hard for local control. I don't understand why an outside organization is trying to influence, in my case Deltona, Osteen, and Enterprise residents," Smith said.
    In November Channel 9 revealed that the PAC receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from the address of Step Up for Students.
    But venture capitalist John Kirtley said none of the money comes from Step Up for Students. He said he made personal contributions.
    This year the legislature increased the amount of money Step Up for Students gets to help low-income kids attend private schools.
    Johnson said she doesn't know why the PAC is supporting her, but said she does support school choice.                                                                                                   
    Florida Federation for Children is an affiliate of a national group that said it spent $1.4 million to influence races in Florida in 2012.

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    9 Investigates: Tampa-based group pours money into Volusia school board campaign