Pro-science group launches ads to push GOP governors to reject conspiracy theories in education policy


Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott and Glenn Youngkin
Paul Hennessy | SOPA Images | LightRocket via Getty Images; Lucas Jackson | Reuters; Win McNamee | Getty Images

A science advocacy group that has supported Democrats is launching a $10 million campaign that includes pushing four Republican governors and a GOP gubernatorial candidate to reject conspiracy theories that have led to battles on school boards.

The push comes as debates over vaccines, science and race become more heated — and partisan — in debates about education policy.

314 Action, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that aims to elect candidates to office with a background in science, technology, math or engineering, plans to spend up to $500,000 in the initial phase of its campaign through the end of the year.

That will include digital ads set to start running this month. Other phases of the campaign will start rolling out next year and through the midterm elections in 2022.

The ads will target Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas, Ron DeSantis of Florida, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Doug Ducey of Arizona and Brian Kemp of Georgia. Glenn Youngkin, a former executive at the Carlyle Group and the Republican nominee for the governor’s seat in Virginia, will also be targeted.

Abbott, DeSantis, Reynolds and Kemp are all up for reelection in 2022. Youngkin is running against Democrat Terry McAuliffe in this November’s election. Polls have shown a tight race in Virginia.

“So it’s either you’re for the violent mob or you’re against it,” Josh Morrow, the executive director of 314 Action, told CNBC. “The fact that these school board members are going to these school board meetings and being shouted at, having things thrown at them, having their lives threatened — for us, it’s like, if you think that’s ok, then you are going to own this violent radical mob.”

The gubernatorial campaign in Virginia has included debates on how the state should handle public education.

“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” McAuliffe said in a debate last month.

Youngkin has said that if he becomes governor his administration will ban schools from teaching critical race theory. Critical race theory is an academic approach to studying the impact of racism that is taught at the college and graduate school level. But more recently the term has been used to describe any anti-racism discussion or even any mention of race in schools. Republicans have largely opposed the teaching of critical race theory.

The 314 Action ads, which were first reviewed by CNBC, depict violence across the country before segueing into images of people pushing conspiracy theories at school board meetings.

“The violent fanatical right, driven by anti-science conspiracies,” the voiceover says. “Republican leaders are dangerously silent as the violent fanatical right rages.” The spots then call on each governor and Youngkin to “side with science and reject right-wing violence in our school boards.”

Many of the clips used in the ads are identical to the ones from a video montage put together by The Recount.

Other aspects of the campaign will start becoming public in the first quarter of 2022. Those next phases will include a digital ad praising Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., for “believing in vaccines.” Casten has a master’s degree in engineering management and a master’s in biochemical engineering.

314 Action publicly discloses its donors. It has been behind previous efforts taking aim at some of the same governors it is targeting in the new $10 million campaign.

Several physicians and scientists have each contributed over $10,000 this year to 314 Action, according to the group’s website.

The group says they worked to help Democrats in 2018 and 2020, including Sens. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., a former astronaut, and John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., a geologist.

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