Little Eddie Talks Big (Union) Money

Yesterday’s post dealt with the union’s new-found pride in having bamboozled Jeffco voters into supporting a “parent-led” recall effort that wasn’t. I mentioned in the post that I’d hold my tongue about John Ford’s hypocritical accusations of “organized money” and “outside interests” until today. Today is here, so let’s get started.

First, a reminder of John Ford’s conference session description:

Powerful, Prepared, Proactive: Building a Comprehensive Plan to Win – PART 1

In the 2015 election, the Jefferson County Education Association in Colorado beat back the Koch brothers and other outside money and interests in their local school board election by building and working a comprehensive plan to win. In this session, participants will learn the strategies and processes involved in the successful two year plan. Participants will learn how organized people can beat organized money. (It is recommended that participants attend both Part 1 and Part 2).

John Ford

Obviously, this description is hardly the only example of the union touting the “outside interests” and “organized money” narratives. Unions and their supporters adopted the same messaging strategy in districts across Colorado, and bludgeoned voters over the heads with it mercilessly right up through the November elections. When Thompson received a $150,000 grant from The Daniels Fund to defend itself legally against a costly union-led assault on its constitutional local control rights, one pro-union board member decried the gift as “outside control, outside money and outside forces.”

One would assume from all this vitriol that the teacheres unions are opposed to outside money and interests in school districts, and that they themselves would be stalwart beacons of local democracy and interests. One would be wrong.

Let’s start with the National Education Association, the mothership for the Colorado Education Association and most local teachers (and other employees) unions in Colorado. According to last year’s federally required LM-2 filing with the U.S. Department of Labor—the same filing that exposed NEA’s $150,000 investment in the Jeffco recall—NEA has roughly 2.9 million members in the United States. In 2014-15, the union reported nearly $389 million dollars in cash receipts, of which $363 million came from dues and agency fees. The organization reported having $363 million dollars in total assets.

Quick side note: Did you know that there are 94,000 people in the NEA alone paying agency fees like the ones the Friedrichs case is attempting to knock down? That is 94,000 non-union members who are paying tribute to the teachers union, many of them involuntarily. Yes, the case is kind of a big deal.

Anyway, NEA spent $362 million in 2014-15. Of that, $41 million went to “political activities and lobbying.” Another $48 million went to “representational activities”—a rather broad umbrella that covers a whole bunch of stuff like litigation, communications, and even some initiative and advocacy work. I’m not sure how John Ford and his allies define “big money,” but I’m going to go ahead and say this qualifies.

The “outside interests” accusation doesn’t stand up very well either. Just for funsies, I asked Google Maps to plot a course from Jefferson County Public Schools’ main complex to the National Education Association palace… erm, headquarters… in Washington, D.C. By road, it’s an almost 1,700 mile trip. Not exactly a neighborhood operation.

Of course, direct contributions from NEA are only part of the puzzle. For all the money that the union gives directly, much more is… handled… by other left-leaning organizations who then pass it along while keeping the union’s fingerprints off of it. Notably, this is exactly the sort of “dark money” arrangement that the Left so often harangues.

If you add contributions to “like-minded” organizations to NEA’s explicit lobbying and political expenditures in 2014-15, the spending figure shoots up to $131 million. Buried within that are contributions to some titanic institutions of the Left. For instance—yes, I know we’ve talked about this before—the union gave $355,000 to America Votes, an organization that calls itself the “coordination hub of the progressive community” and sports a partners list that includes Left-wing heavyweights like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Planned Parenthood, and both the Democratic House and Senate Majority PACs.

Coincidentally, $75,000 of America Votes money flowed into a 527 political organization called Put Thompson Students First Action in Thompson School District during the 2015 election cycle. That organization then passed the funds to PTSF’s independent expenditure committee, which proceeded to run professionally developed media ads designed to damage the conservative board majority after it had the gall to turn down two flawed tentative agreements with its local union—a decision that was later supported by a panel of Colorado Court of Appeals judges.

We’ll never know exactly where the $75,000 in America Votes money originated. That is, after all, sort of the point of dark money operations. But if I were a betting kid, I think I could make an educated guess.

All of this comes before we even begin to discuss the Colorado Education Association’s involvement in Colorado elections. The organization’s spending history is decidedly partisan. In the 2013-14 election cycle, CEA gave nearly $1 million directly to candidates in partisan races. For every $1 of that money that went to Republicans, $134 went Democrats. And those figures don’t include the enormous constellation of political committees and organizations CEA funds.

We could go on and on. We could talk about the fact that Put Thompson Students First also received $30,000 from CEA, or that an independent expenditure committee in Steamboat—a district of about 2,500 students and seven schools (six if you exclude one devoted solely to pre-K)—received nearly $132,000 from CEA. The union-backed candidates in that small district also received funding directly from CEA.

Then there are the astonishing spending figures that pop up when one also factors in the private sector of Big Labor. A recent report found that these NEA, AFT, and their Big Labor brethren gave a combined almost $418 million dollars to left-leaning organizations and causes between 2012 and 2014.  Wowzers.

I rest my case. For the record, I have few issues with political spending. I think everyone should have the right to support their principles, ideas, and beliefs, including through the application of financial resources. There’s even a compelling argument out there that political spending is beneficial to both the American economy and political involvement.

I do, however, have a problem with lying. If you’re going to point fingers at someone else and toss around claims about outside interests and big money, you should at least be honest about it. If the teachers unions have an issue with massive state- and local-level spending by out-of-town political giants, perhaps they should take a good, hard look in the mirror. Until they do that, I’d appreciate it if they’d spare us all the prevarication.