By Jason Hart | Watchdog.org
The National Education Association spent more than $35 million on politics this year, including $3.6 million not disclosed as political activity.
During NEA’s 2014 fiscal year ending Aug. 31, the union dumped $9.8 million into its NEA Advocacy Fund political action committee, a “super PAC” the union used to make independent expenditures in congressional races.
NEA, the nation’s second-highest campaign donor since 1989, has decried the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, lifting restrictions on political speech and allowing unlimited contributions to super PACs.
In September, NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia accused the U.S. Senate of bowing “to corporate manipulators like the Koch brothers, the Walton family and ALEC” by voting against an amendment to the Constitution limiting political spending.
According to Eskelsen Garcia, the Kochs and others “use the Citizens United decision to stifle the voices of America’s workers and voters by making sure their fiscal interests and voice come before the interests of working families. The power to speak freely is a hollow freedom for the millions of Americans whose voice is drowned out by the booming echo of big money posing as free speech.”
NEA took $362.9 million in dues and fees from teachers in 2014; Eskelsen Garcia was paid $345,728 as NEA vice president, and outgoing president Dennis Van Roekel got $541,632. Based on a Center for Responsive Politics review of FEC data, NEA poured more than $16 million into NEA Advocacy Fund during the latest election cycle.
NEA did not respond to a request for comment on spending disclosed in the union’s 2014 report to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Like smaller teachers union American Federation of Teachers, NEA — which took mandatory “agency fees” from 90,255 nonmembers this year — promotes left-wing causes not only through PAC and super PAC contributions but also through donations and payments to expressly political businesses and nonprofits.
For 2014, NEA reported $31.4 million in “Political Activities and Lobbying.“ Another $3.6 million in payments to political organizations were reported as “Contributions, Gifts and Grants.”
Much of NEA’s political spending went to key funding targets of Democracy Alliance, a secretive group of wealthy leftists whose board is chaired by NEA executive director John Stocks. NEA gave $160,000 to Democracy Alliance and $25,000 to the group’s Committee on States project, reporting neither as political activity.
NEA payments of a combined $534,500 to America Votes and America Votes Action Fund, $393,541 to data consulting firm Catalist, $150,000 to Ballot Initiative Strategy Center and $50,000 to New Organizing Institute were all reported as political activity.
But payments of $250,000 to Latino Engagement Action Fund, $160,000 to Center for American Progress, $150,000 to ProgressNow, $150,000 to Youth Engagement Fund, $25,000 to Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and $10,000 to American Constitution Society were not.
All of the above organizations were members of the Democracy Alliance “Aligned Network,” a designation reserved for the group’s top funding priorities, as of spring 2014, based on internal documents obtained by The Washington Free Beacon.
Aside from payments to NEA Advocacy Fund and the Democracy Alliance network, notable NEA expenditures reported as political activity included $2 million to union advocacy group Colorado Commits to Kids, $500,000 to Missouri-based Committee in Support of Public Education, $483,000 to Seattle-based Class Size Counts and $150,000 to American Bridge 21st Century, another “progressive” super PAC.
Other NEA political expenditures not reported as political activity included $235,000 to Progressive States Network, $225,000 to Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund, $160,000 to National Public Pension Coalition and $75,000 to Human Rights Campaign.
NEA donated $250,000 to Main Street Advocacy Fund, a “conservative” group created to attack conservatives on behalf of big-government Republicans, and $25,000 to sister organization Republican Main Street Partnership.
In a phone interview, Association of American Educators communications director Alexandra Freeze told Watchdog.org AAE often hears from teachers shocked to learn how NEA spends their money.
“I think a lot of teachers really have absolutely no idea how much these union executives are making,” Freeze said. “If teachers really knew the overhead involved in what they’re paying in union dues, I think they would be outraged.”
“It’s important for teachers to understand that they’re often told their money is staying local, that their money is only going to their benefits and services when in fact it’s actually going to a lot of politically charged organizations.”
“A lot of teachers don’t realize they’re directly funding causes through their membership dues at the NEA, so I think there’s a definite need for more transparency within the organization; teachers need to have that information,” she added.
“And the teachers who do find that out are very much disenfranchised by that, and the reason why you’re seeing such a mass exodus of members is because teachers are not interested in being political pawns, and that’s why AAE has grown so much in the last five years, because teachers are looking for an organization that strictly spends their money on benefits and services.”