Tales from the Unions’ Dark (Money) Side
The unions preen and posture as political underdogs, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Thanks to the teachers unions and the American left, the term “dark money” – political spending by groups whose own donors are allowed to remain hidden – is most closely associated with two successful industrialists from Kansas – the Koch brothers. But what many don’t know is that the teachers unions are involved in dark money – and worse – big time.
First, last fall there was a mysterious $480,000 ad buy which helped propel Martin Walsh to a Boston mayoral victory over John Connolly, a longtime adversary of the teachers unions. Turns out that the donated money, having taken a circuitous and sneaky path, was a gift from the American Federation of Teachers.
Massachusetts legislators didn’t think much of the AFT gambit, and are trying to pass laws requiring more transparency. But according to a Boston Globe report, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s National Education Association affiliate, is balking at the legislation and trying to eviscerate it, citing “technical issues.” The MTA can balk till the 12th of Never, but a couple of weeks ago AFT’s dark (and illegal) money groups got dinged to the tune of $30,000 for “failure to organize as a PAC, failure to disclose finance activity accurately, contributions made in a manner intended to disguise the true source of the contributions, receipt of contributions not raised in accordance with campaign law, and use of wire transfers.” Given that their illegal gift was a roaring success, the $30,000 fine was a slap on the wrist.
Then there is AFT president Randi Weingarten, who as a member of George Soros’ left-wing Democracy Alliance (whose president is NEA executive director John Stocks), was criticized for her participation in the dark money group. In response she tweeted, “…spending it to ensure reg folks had access to democracy…and a fairer economy.” (How she can say things like this with a straight face is beyond me.)
For the unions, the Kochs’ bête-noire status is only outdone by Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened the door to the creation of “super PACs” and an accompanying uptick in dark money expenditures. The ruling especially benefited corporations – and unions – which had spending restrictions removed. But never missing an opportunity to twist the narrative by telling a blatant half-truth, Weingarten warned, “Citizens United and our failure to enact campaign finance reforms have led to an improper influence of corporate power. If the Supreme Court now strikes down aggregate contribution limits, it will further privilege wealthy donors in the political process and further undermine working people’s confidence that government is serving the public interest.” Loosely translated: “We can’t stand any competition.”
What the union leaders don’t tell us is that they have used Citizens United to their great advantage. The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that tracks the political spending of groups and individuals who wrote checks of more than $10,000 to super PACs and other political committees, found that “big labor outspent big business by a margin of more than 2-to-1 during 2013.”
‘When it comes to writing big checks to favored candidates and causes, unions last year seemed to be taking greater advantage of the landmark Citizens United decision than corporations,’ said Jacob Fenton, an editorial engineer for the Sunlight Foundation.
That might come as something of a surprise, because the union — like many of its brethren — has publicly spoken against Citizens United and even called for Congress to overrule the Supreme Court on the issue.
AFT continued to bellyache, and in a 2012 statement called for the case to be overturned:
The Citizens United ruling has opened the floodgates to massive spending by corporations and even more so by wealthy donors. They are pouring money into our electoral system and threaten to drown out the voices of hard-working Americans.
Yet another flagrant half-truth. Looking at political spending in aggregate reveals a very different story. According to Open Secrets, from 1989-2014 12 of the top 17 “heavy hitters” are unions (NEA is #3 and AFT is #12) – all of which donate almost exclusively to Weingarten’s team – Democrats. ActBlue, which is by far the biggest spender sees over 99 percent of its largess go to Democrats. The other four major players (Goldman Sachs, AT&T, JP Morgan and the National Association of Realtors) disburse money to both parties. (Spending since the advent of Citizens United is in line with the 25-year numbers.)
In keeping with the unions grousing, victim-speak, disinformation and cheating, it should come as no surprise that CTA and SEIU led the charge against SB 52 in California. As reported in the San Jose Mercury News, the Democrat-sponsored bill would have let voters know who is paying for ballot measure ads – on the ads themselves. “Companies and unions could no longer hide behind front groups to keep their identities secret from voters. No more tiny on-screen text. TV ads would show the top three funders in big, readable letters on a black background.” But the unions got their way, managing to get the bill tossed in the “inactive file” this past Friday.
So while the unions join Harry Reid in excoriating the Koch brothers, they ultimately “out-Koch” them. They screech over Citizens United while at the same time taking maximum advantage of it. Then when a bill comes along to promote political donation transparency, they lobby to kill it. The unions are not about fairness; they are about power plain and simple – and using it in any way they can to force their agenda down our throats.
“…spending it to ensure reg folks had access to democracy…and a fairer economy.” I mean, really, Randi??!! All the faux appeals to “reg folks” can’t hide the exceedingly hypocritical dark side of unions – especially the teacher variety, which hose the “reg folks” on a daily basis. Fortunately the “reg folks” are figuring that out and the unions’ popularity with them is at an all-time low.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.