The paper trail for a mysterious one million dollar donation to Spirit of Virginia, the campaign committee affiliated with Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, leads to Texas associates of Austin-area billionaire investor Joe Liemandt.
The seven-figure sum was donated by a company known as Future of Education LLC on May 26, one day after the company was incorporated in Delaware. Future of Education LLC does not have an active website, is not registered as a business in either Virginia or Texas, and does not appear to have any publicly listed contact information, according to searches of public records and the web.
“When people form a shell LLC to hide a Texas donor and then the very next day make a million-dollar donation, we know they’re up to no good,” said Democratic House Minority Leader Don Scott Jr. “But the Virginia GOP has a history of taking donations from everyone from MAGA cronies to Nazi memorabilia collector Harlan Crow, so I’m not surprised.”
Scott and other Democratic representatives in Virginia allege the million-dollar donation illustrates a loophole that gets around the intent of Virginia campaign finance laws aimed at providing the voting public a sense of whether politicians have any significant conflicts of interest or are being unduly influenced.
The million-dollar donation landed in Youngkin’s campaign coffers just five days before the Virginia governor ordered 100 members of his state National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas to support Governor Greg Abbott’s controversial Operation Lone Star border enforcement initiative. $700,000 from the Spirit of Virginia committee had been passed on as a contribution to the Republican Party of Virginia on July 11. Youngkin has received other large donations originating from Texas including $300,000 from Texan beer distributor John Nau III, who was appointed by Youngkin to the board of the University of Virginia.
Virginia, like Texas, has no limit on state campaign contributions. Large campaign donations are not uncommon in Virginia politics, and Republican politicians aren’t alone in receiving large donations from companies registered as LLCs. Democratic candidates in Virginia have received $3.5 million in donations from various LLCs this campaign cycle.
But the key difference is that most of those LLCs weren’t newly formed.
“It is unusual,” said Nancy Morgan, coordinator of Big Money Out VA, a volunteer advocacy group dedicated to getting big money donations out of politics via campaign finance reform. “It seems the source of the money is hiding something.”
The address for Future of Education LLC listed on the Virginia public record of the donation is a home that, according to Travis County records, is owned by Andrew Price and his wife MacKenzie Price. Andrew Price is chief financial officer of two privately held companies founded and led by Liemandt, private equity firm ESW Capital, and technology company Trilogy Inc., according to his LinkedIn profile. MacKenzie Price is an alternative education entrepreneur and education reformer who founded the K-12 private Alpha School and the online education outfit GT School. GT School also has a relationship with ESW Capital via Tyler Morgan, a vice president at ESW Capital who describes his role on LinkedIn as “Global Brand Strategy & Marketing (gt.school).”
Incorporation paperwork for Future of Education LLC from the state of Delaware lists as the acting incorporator an attorney who got their start at Trilogy. They previously represented Andrew Price in a 2023 asset purchase which featured a Trilogy employee on the buyer side, according to a US Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
The Prices, Liemandt, and Spirit of Virginia did not respond to questions and requests for comment sent via email by the Texas Observer.
Dave Rexrode, chairman of Youngkin’s PAC, told the Richmond-Times Dispatch that Mackenzie Price was responsible for the donation. But according to data collected by campaign finance nonprofits, neither MacKenize nor her husband Andrew have a track record of massive political donations—and certainly not in Virginia. According to data from the nonprofit OpenSecrets, MacKenzie previously donated less than $15,000 to political candidates, all of them in Texas. And according to data from the nonprofit TransparencyUSA, her husband Andrew donated $20,000 to Save Austin Now, a pro-police PAC group, in 2021. Aside from those donations, the Observer was unable to identify other political contributions made by MacKenzie or Andrew.
But Andrew Price’s boss, Liemandt, has donated significant sums to a variety of political candidates and campaigns, contributing more than $1 million since 2008. He donated $25,000 to Abbott in 2022, and sent two $25,000 donations to Save Austin Now within a week of Price’s donation to the same group.
Although MacKenzie Price has ties to Liemandt and has never made such large out-of-state political contributions in the past, there is no presently available documentation to tie the donation directly to Liemandt.
Liemandt built his fortune in the 1990s tech wave through Trilogy, which basically creates and sells product configuration and sales software to other companies. He’s further expanded his wealth via his closely held private equity firm, ESW Capital, which invests in a slew of software companies whose names you have likely never heard. Among them is Crossover, a little-known recruitment firm described by Forbes as “actually the recruiting wing of ESW.” Both of MacKenzie Price’s companies, GT School and Alpha School, use Crossover for recruitment.
Although Liemandt has donated to Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian candidates and campaigns over the years, the majority of his political contributions have gone to conservatives. According to data from OpenSecrets and TransparencyUSA, since 2008 Liemandt has donated $495,350 to Republican candidates and $177,500 to Libertarian candidates, representing 63 percent of his total donations. Only $165,200 has been donated to Democratic candidates, with the remaining $221,316 going to local political candidates and PACs that present themselves as nonpartisan.
According to Youngkin’s PAC chairperson, MacKenzie Price donated $1 million to Youngkin due to her interest in education reform—a plausible reason, even if the seven-figure sum raises eyebrows.
Youngkin has made education reform a central part of his policy platform since securing the Virginia governor’s office. His administration saw the passage of a substantial education budget that raised teacher salaries, he signed executive orders banning critical race theory, and a set of new “model policies” retracting accommodations for transgender students were released under his watch. In recent months, Republican leaders in the Virginia House have proposed a handful of bills that would divert a portion of public school funding to “savings accounts” that parents could use to pay for alternative private schools.
A recently released report from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found that Virginia public schools are underfunded, receiving 14 percent less funding than the 50-state average. Republicans, who have held a majority in the Virginia state house 22 out of the last 24 years, are now citing underperforming schools in their push to privatize education.
With millions of dollars pouring into political campaigns in Virginia, the disclosure of who donors are and what they do for a living is the only way that voters can get a sense of whether a politician has conflicts of interest or is being improperly influenced. Exactly why MacKenzie Price was involved with an LLC that had initially kept her name off the donor rolls is still uncertain, even if Price eventually disclosed she was the source.
The lack of transparency has raised doubts for Democratic representatives.
“I would like to see legislation requiring more disclosures from donors, particularly when it comes to LLCs,” Scott told the Observer. “One of the ways very, very wealthy people influence our elections here in Virginia is by forming an LLC to shield who actually gave the money. I think we still don’t know. But they clearly have a vested interest in undermining our public schools.”