By Jason Hart | Watchdog.org
American Federation of Teachers reported $24.9 million in political and lobbying expenditures during its most recent fiscal year, but even that figure understates the union’s actual spending on politics.
While AFT, like other large unions, reports “Political Activities and Lobbying” to the U.S. Department of Labor each year, payments to left-wing groups are often filed as “Contributions, Gifts and Grants” or “Representational Activities” instead of political expenditures.
Considering that most of AFT’s members are public-sector workers, essentially all AFT activities are political. Even with politics narrowly defined as lobbying, campaign contributions and other payments to expressly political groups, AFT spends more on politics than teachers may expect.
Based on Political Activities and Lobbying spending plus payments to political organizations listed elsewhere in the union’s annual report, AFT poured more than $27 million in member dues into political activism during the 2014 fiscal year ending June 30.
Additionally, compensation for AFT bosses who travel the country demanding bigger government is frequently treated as general overhead. Only 2 percent of the $557,875 AFT paid President Randi Weingarten was reported as Political Activities and Lobbying in 2014.
“This is business as usual,” Association of American Educators communications director Alexandra Freeze told Watchdog.org in a phone interview. “Teachers unions are some of the biggest contributors to partisan politics in the country, and that’s coming out of teacher dues, it’s coming out of tax funds.”
“The members we welcome are certainly sick of being political pawns in that game and are not interested in funding partisan causes or candidacies, and they’re not interested in being told how to vote,” Freeze added. AAE, a national nonunion professional association for teachers, was founded in 1994 and has members in all 50 states.
AFT reported $2,352,550 in payments to political groups as Contributions, Gifts and Grants and $312,187 as Representational Activities in the 2014 fiscal year. The union also gave more than $3 million to union organizing campaigns in Connecticut, Louisiana, Illinois and elsewhere.
“The average teacher, they’re busy in the classroom and some of this information is hidden very well,” Freeze said. “Teachers need to know that information, they need to know where their dues are going.”
AFT didn’t respond to a Watchdog.org inquiry about how the union makes spending decisions and discloses its spending to members.
The teachers union indirectly supported presumptive Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton with payments of $250,000 to Clinton Foundation and $200,000 to Clinton Global Initiative reported as Contributions, Gifts and Grants. AFT also donated $300,000 to late “liberal lion” Ted Kennedy’s Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.
Economic Policy Institute, a union think tank, received $275,000 from AFT, while more than a dozen political nonprofits received four- and five-figure contributions. Smaller AFT Contributions, Gifts and Grants made during the union’s 2014 fiscal year included:
- $80,000 to National Public Pension Coalition, a lobbying group dedicated to fighting public pension reform
- $75,000 to Human Rights Campaign, an activist group “working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights”
- $60,000 to Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund, a nonprofit allied with “progressive unions” and others to advance “racial and economic justice”
- $50,000 to Center for American Progress, a “progressive” activist group formerly led by John Podesta, a senior adviser to President Obama
- $50,000 to Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a “social justice” lobbying group
- $25,000 to BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor unions and environmentalist groups
- $25,000 to Citizens for Tax Justice, an activist group devoted to higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy
- $25,000 to union front group Jobs With Justice and another $10,200 to Jobs With Justice Education Fund
- $25,000 to MSNBC host Al Sharpton’s National Action Network
- $25,000 to Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition
AFT reported payments of $75,000 to left-wing think tank Public Policy and Education Fund of New York and $73,854 to community organizing group Recommit Wisconsin Project as representational expenses. Other AFT expenditures reported as Representational Activities included:
- $50,000 to community organizing group Common Good Ohio
- $40,000 to Campaign for America’s Future, “the strategy center for the progressive movement”
- $30,000 to The Atlas Project, a group created “to help build the institutional memory of the progressive movement”
“Teachers believe that they are spending money on professional development and liability insurance; they don’t realize that a lot of this money is going to staff overhead and partisan politics,” Freeze told Watchdog.org.
“Regardless of a teacher’s politics, I think they’d rather see that money in their own pocket than into teachers union dues that aren’t going to benefits for them or going to the classroom, they’re going to these super-partisan campaigns or candidacies or foundations that might not reflect their values.”
Excluding state and local affiliate dues, AFT headquarters charged $213.36 for the privilege of membership. AFT can take mandatory “fair share” fees almost as costly as member dues from public school teachers in 21 states and the District of Columbia who decline to join the union.