1) How Much Does NEA Spend on
Politics? I have been asked this question, in some
form, at least once a week for the past 13 years. I'm afraid my answer
invariably fails to satisfy. I respond:
What do you mean by "NEA" and what do
you mean by "politics?"
the main difficulty with placing an indisputable figure on the cash amount.
One man's "politics" is another man's "member communication." Some think
"political spending" is limited to donations to candidates. Others think
it's every dollar not directly related to bargaining contracts for local
I'll do my
best to work you through it - from the broadest interpretation to the
narrowest and from national to local - with examples from the current
election cycle. Fair warning, though: The results are nuanced and
thing we have to do is to divide NEA into its three components - national,
state and local. Though money is extracted from members' paychecks in one
lump sum, its division and destination depend on federal and state laws.
NEA's national headquarters expects to bring in $358 million in 2010-11.
unions cannot charge non-members for political spending, each year NEA must
compute what portion of its spending is related to collective bargaining and
services, and what portion is not. This percentage varies year-to-year, but
by NEA's own computation the non-chargeable portion is around 40 percent. So
the broadest interpretation of NEA's "political" spending would be $143
affiliates must perform a similar computation. Their non-chargeable
percentage varies from state to state, but here in California it has
traditionally been about 30 percent. The California Teachers Association's
budget is around $201 million, so its "political" spending would be about
$60 million. If you were to perform similar calculations on all of NEA's
state affiliates, your grand total would run about $275 million.
NEA has more
than 10,000 local affiliates, but relatively few spend money on politics.
The ones that do tend to be large, like those in Los Angeles and San Diego.
I couldn't even estimate what a grand total would be, but I feel confident
that all political spending, at all levels, under the broadest
interpretation, would amount to something under $450 million annually.
But how that
money is categorized is a different story entirely, because the lion's share
of it never ends up in the war chests of either political candidates or
campaigns. Most of it is used to deliver a political message to members,
and is therefore not subject to any campaign finance restrictions. So the
question of whether a particular expense is political depends not only on
the substance of the message, but to whom it is being disseminated. If NEA
sends a mailer to a member calling for the election of Candidate X, or the
passage of Measure Y, it is probably not a campaign expenditure. But if NEA
sends the same mailer to me, it is.
spends to influence politicians and the public is reported in political
finance public records. What it spends to influence its own members shows up
only in its comprehensive financial reporting, gathered by the IRS and the
Department of Labor. So when NEA says it plans to spend
$40 million on the 2010 election, it isn't entirely clear whether the
union includes member communication in that total. Unfortunately, even when
we disregard members the political spending picture can still be very
are lobbying expenditures. In the 2009-10 election cycle, NEA has so far
$4.4 million on lobbying. Naturally, NEA lobbies Congress and the
executive branch. State affiliates lobby governors and state legislatures
and report those expenditures individually. You can check
each state's top lobbyists and see where each NEA affiliate ranks, and
then total it up. Let me know what you end up with.
Next are PAC
contributions. These cause the most confusion because the union is fond of
telling objecting members, "We don't spend dues money on political
candidates." This is true. It is against the law to do so. But this is the
narrowest interpretation of political spending - direct contributions to
candidates. NEA must collect voluntary contributions for its PAC, and only
from members. Most of the fundraising comes during annual events and
assemblies, such as the NEA convention each July. It might surprise you to
know that NEA's $1.2 million in PAC spending in the 2010 cycle doesn't rank
top 20 Democratic PAC contributors (AFT is sixth).
So we move on
to those political expenditures for which you can use dues money:
independent expenditures, issue campaigns and ballot initiatives. According
to the Federal Election Commission, NEA had
$3.4 million in independent expenditures for the period from Sept. 1 to
Oct. 14. But that's far from all. As EIA readers well know, NEA collects $10
annually from each member for its Ballot Measures/Legislative Crises Fund.
Money that isn't disbursed carries over to the following year, often leaving
NEA with $20 million to spend on national or state campaigns.
The union no longer issues a memo
detailing those expenditures, but EIA has reported on the $3 million granted
to Oklahoma and $500,000 to Washington. EIA has also learned that NEA will
end up contributing almost $4.3 million to California's ballot initiative
campaigns. All these national contributions are in addition to whatever the
state affiliate raises and spends on its own. It can get tricky keeping
track of these, since an NEA donation could go directly to an initiative
campaign, or it could go to the state affiliate, which then gives it to the
initiative campaign. There is both a danger of missing a significant
donation, or double-counting a single one.
The National Institute on Money in State
Politics does yeoman work trying to keep it all straight, but it is limited
by the relative transparency of each state's laws. Nonetheless, it reports
$28.8 million in political spending from NEA and its state affiliates
during the 2009-10 election cycle (so far). Almost $12.8 million of that is
being spent in California. And as we zoom in on California, we can see just
how complex this all can get.
Let's begin with the eight initiatives
set for the November ballot. The state's Fair Political Practices Commission
reported on the large contributors in each campaign. The California Teachers
Association contributed more than $100,000 to five of them (for what each
measure would do,
check this page):
- $304,240 to No on 22
- $200,000 to No on 23
- $6,449,894 to Yes on 24
- $1,204,240 to Yes on 25
- $254,240 to No on 26
But CTA's political spending extends far
beyond these initiatives. The union has a candidate PAC, an issues PAC, and
two independent expenditure committees. Let's take them in turn.
The candidate PAC is especially tricky,
because CTA, like NEA, has to collect voluntary contributions for it. Except
the definition of voluntary is slightly different in California from what it
is at the federal level. When one becomes a CTA member, one must check a box
refusing to donate to the PAC.
Leave it blank, and you'll be contributing $26.30 a year to the PAC for as
long as you remain a member.
This year, the CTA candidate PAC sent
relatively small amounts to candidates and Democratic Party committees, but
$1.5 million to one independent expenditure committee and $5 million to the
other. The first committee sent all of its funding to the state
superintendent of public instruction campaign of
Tom Torlakson. The
second committee has so far spent $1.5 million on Torlakson, $1 million
on Jerry Brown for governor, and $250,000 to the
Alliance for a Better California, a coalition of public employee unions
that has given the bulk of its money to Jerry Brown and the Yes on 24 and 25
This brings us, at last, to the issues
PAC, which in addition to the ballot initiative spending noted above, also
$2 million to the California Democratic Party.
As you can see, there isn't a sound bite
reply to the headline question, "How Much Does NEA Spend on Politics?" But
you wouldn't be far wrong if you simply answered, "As much as it wants to."
2) Duncan Announces Summit to Restore
Unions' Public Image. Technically, it's a "national
education reform conference on labor-management collaboration," but the
eight examples all seem to have been chosen by the unions, including,
unfortunately for them,
Unmentioned in the announcement: charter
schools, districts in states without collective bargaining, and the fate of
previous union presidents who championed collaboration (see
item #2 here).
People I don't expect to see at the
front of the collaboration summit:
George Parker, and
3) Last Week's Intercepts.
Intercepts, covered these topics from October 5-18:
Guggenheim and Baldwin Learn an Inconvenient Truth. Join the club,
Pushback on Baltimore Contract. An omen...
A Failure of Imagination. ...that I didn't believe...
Baltimore Contract Grants "Achievement Units" for Union Work. ...nor
does the district and union.
NEA and Online Higher Ed. For-profit colleges are bad, at least until we
get our cut.
Hysteria Head Start. EduJobs II - in pre-production.
NEA Sends $500K to Washington for Tax Initiatives. Tax-exempt money to
support an income tax.
Till Death Do Us Part. Love your spouse, but pay your union.
Cash for Clunkers. Not even a nod to education issues.
Quote of the Week.
"I am unabashedly pro-teacher. I believe in collective bargaining. But what
you see up here is a broken system... The most powerful defenders of that
broken system, without a question, is the teachers' union." - Los Angeles
Mayor (and former teacher union organizer) Antonio Villaraigosa. (October 5