Massachusetts Union Complaint Against Gov. Baker Could Backfire

The Massachusetts Teachers Association and AFT Massachusetts filed a complaint today with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission claiming a TV ad featuring Gov. Charlie Baker violates federal “pay-to-play” laws.

The ad is in support of Question 2, which would allow an additional 12 charter schools per year in the state. The complaint alleges that several executives with financial firms that manage the state pension fund have contributed to the Yes on 2 campaign, and that because Gov. Baker appoints two of the nine members on the pension investment committee the contributions were illegal donations – not to the ballot measure campaign, but to Gov. Baker’s re-election bid in 2018.

“Governor Baker’s political fortunes are clearly tied to the fate of Question 2, and it is appalling that ads starring him are being financed by donations from Wall Street fund managers who have an interest in currying favor with the administration,” said Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

You can read the complaint and judge its merits for yourself. It seems to be an odd choice of charges for teachers’ unions to make.

Claiming that a contribution to a ballot initiative is essentially the same as a contribution to a candidate could dismantle much of a union’s political power and open it up to similar charges regarding the use of dues money. Unions are permitted to use dues money for initiative campaigns and independent expenditures, but not for contributions to political candidates. If the SEC or other federal agency should start making broader interpretations of what constitutes candidate donations, unions could find themselves in a lot of trouble.

For example, someone could file a complaint that the spending of MTA and AFT Massachusetts against Question 2 is an illegal donation to the reelection campaign of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who has been prominently featured in the No on 2 campaign. But that wouldn’t hold water, would it?

“Currying favor” is the basis for most political campaign contributions. The Massachusetts unions and their parent affiliates not only know this, but practice it religiously. The practice can be subtle, or not really that subtle, like the example in this e-mail from Nikki Budzinski, the labor outreach coordinator for Hillary Clinton’s campaign:

I think that NEA is open to doing the full $180K to the Victory Fund. They can do this amount in 2015 and the same amount in 2016.

Then in the very next paragraph:

[NEA executive director] John Stocks raised a issue about teacher shortage that he thought would be a good message for their members and the profession at large if the Secretary would want to weigh in.

This newfound zeal to put an end to secret deals and payoffs is commendable. Maybe it should start at home.


Trump Apparently Matching Previous GOP Candidate Support Among NEA Members

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a piece on NEA president Lily Eskelsen García and her efforts on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Nothing unusual in it, except the information that “based on the union’s internal analysis, its members support Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Trump by 36 percentage points.”

That’s a large margin, no question, but it’s actually comparable to how previous Republican presidential candidates have polled among the NEA membership – at least according to the post-election surveys I have managed to obtain over the years.

With that margin, Trump must be polling in the low-thirties among NEA’s rank-and-file, but Bob Dole managed only 31% of the NEA vote in 1996 and George W. Bush upped it to 34% in 2000. I’m not privy to how Bush did in 2004, or McCain and Romney in their bids for the White House, but I doubt they performed much better or worse.

I suppose this is both good and bad news for Trump – good in that despite his numerous failings and the intensity of NEA’s effort against him, he’s still on the same plateau; bad because he was supposed to make inroads among union members. And while NEA is a public employee union, the AFL-CIO today stated its poll of union members in battleground states show Trump with only 33 percent support.


$528K to Defeat Montana Mental Health Initiative? NEA Says No Brainer

Yesterday the Associated Press reported that the National Education Association contributed $528,000 “to defeat a Montana ballot initiative that would authorize the state to issue $200 million in bonds over the next decade for research into brain injuries and illnesses.”

That caught the attention of a lot of people, including Arne Duncan. What possible interest could NEA have in such a measure, and why the extraordinary amount of money?

“I don’t want to see any more obstacles to a major infrastructure bill. Consequently, that’s why we’re opposed,” said Eric Feaver, president of MEA-MFT, the state affiliate of both NEA and AFT in Montana.

Feaver requested the money from NEA even though the state union had only committed $600 to the opposition campaign.

The Montana AFL-CIO came out against the initiative last May, stating the measure “sets a precedent of directing bonding through the initiative process that could be abused by special interests in the future.”

Well, they’re not wrong about that.


Florida Education Association Delegates Shoot Down Automatic Dues Increase

No details on this one, but like NEA itself, most state affiliates prefer to have dues levels tied to growth in average teacher salary or some other formula so that increases do not have to be lobbied for and voted on year after year. United Teachers Los Angeles finally overcame that hurdle after years of trying.

A proposed amendment to the Florida Education Association constitution would have made dues increases automatic, but representatives to its delegate assembly voted it down. At least there is one victory for fiscal restraint.


Unions Account for 99.4% of Contributions to Keep Massachusetts Charter Cap

Question 2 would authorize 12 additional charter schools per year in Massachusetts and the unions have decided for some reason that this is their Thermopylae.

Through October 15 the No on 2 campaign has raised almost $13,434,000 of which more than 99.4% has come from labor unions. The vast majority of those contributions came from the two national teachers’ unions and their Massachusetts affiliates.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association leads the way with almost $6 million in cash and in-kind contributions so far – or about $53 per active member.

Its parent union, the National Education Association, chipped in with $5.4 million. The remaining union donations are as follows:

American Federation of Teachers – $1,000,000

AFT Massachusetts – $820,472

Lynn Teachers Union – $50,000

Boston Teachers Union – $49,550

United Teachers of Lowell – $30,000

Salem Teachers Union – $10,000

University of Massachusetts Faculty Federation – $5,000

Massachusetts AFL-CIO – $5,000

Massachusetts & Northern New England Laborers’ District Council – $5,000

Massachusetts Teachers Association Benefits Inc. – $1,437.55

International Union of Operating Engineers Local No.4 – $1,000

United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1445 – $500

Boston Carmen’s Union – $300

Massachusetts Library Staff Association – $100

Individual employees of unions – $2,107

While there might not be much more outside money coming in, the campaign still has more than $3.2 million on hand, and the Massachusetts Teachers Association still has $4 million more available that the union’s board of directors set aside for the campaign in May.