The National Education Association's $131 Million Influence Buying Spree

The National Education Association's $131 Million Influence Buying Spree

The National Education Association just filed its latest financial disclosure with the U.S. Department of Labor, and as you would expect, it spent big on its efforts to preserve its influence over education policymaking. The union spent $131 million on lobbying and contributions to what are supposed to be like-minded organizations in 2014-2015, just slightly less than the $132 million spent during the previous year. This doesn’t include the $40 million it spends on so-called representational activities, which are often just as political in nature.

One of the big recipients this year: The Center for Popular Democracy, the progressive outfit which has become a key player in efforts by both NEA and the American Federation of Teachers to oppose the expansion of public charter schools. The outfit and its political action fund collected $570,900 from NEA last fiscal year, double the $250,000 collected from the union in 2013-2014. This is certainly good news for AFT President Randi Weingarten, who sits on Popular Democracy’s board and whose own union poured $160,000 into the outfit and its political wing.

20151204-UW-GarciaNEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia

Another top recipient of NEA largesse is Democracy Alliance, the secretive progressive outfit which has become a major player in national and Democratic Party politics. NEA Executive Director John Stocks chairs the organization’s board of directors. Democracy Alliance and its Committee on States collected $214,000 from the union last fiscal year. This is a 64 percent decline from the previous year. But given the stakes for next year’s presidential and congressional races, expect NEA to bolster its support for the outfit next year.

Meanwhile NEA is giving big to Democracy Alliance’s wider network, many of which are already longtime recipients of the union’s largesse. The union gave $225,000 to Progress Now, the outfit chaired by Stock’s predecessor as Democracy Alliance chairman, John McKay; poured $200,000 into David Brock’s Media Matters for America (which disgraced itself as a paragon of progressive politics over the last year with scandals such as its effort to oppose unionization of its own staff); $27,400 into Netroots Nation; and $13,300 into Progressive States Network. NEA also spent heavily with Catalist LLC, the data outfit for the Democratic National Committee that is a lynchpin in Democracy Alliance’s campaign efforts; the union paid $726,566 to Catalist last year, double its spend in 2013-2014.

The biggest single recipient of all? Patriot Majority USA, the outfit founded by political strategist Craig Varoga that has also become a key player in Democratic Party politics. NEA gave Patriot Majority $1.4 million to the outfit in 2014-2015, 27 times more than it gave in the previous year. Given that huge boost in contributions, expect Patriot Majority to be another lynchpin in the union’s efforts to beat back the influence of Centrist Democrat school reformers within the party. The second-biggest recipient was America Works USA, a super-PAC which has garnered attention for helping Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf pressure the state’s Republican-controlled legislature into approving his tax increases; NEA poured $1 million into the group last year.

NEA poured $355,000 into America Votes, another progressive group whose “partners” include AFT and Center for Popular Democracy’s action fund. The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a endowment developed by former Clinton Administration mandarin Eric Kessler’s Arabella Advisors, received $450,000 from NEA; that’s plenty of money that will be funneled to progressive groups on the union’s behalf. Another outfit with ties to Kessler, New Venture Fund, received $117,000 from the union. And Network, a social justice group with ties to the Catholic Church got $50,000 from NEA last year.

Meanwhile, NEA is adding new vassals. One of them is the Progressive Inc., the outfit that publishes the Progressive, a key outlet for traditionalists such as Jeff Bryant of Campaign for America’s Future (a longtime NEA dependent) and Julian Vasquez-Heilig. It picked up $100,000 from the union in 2014-2015. Campaign for America’s Future, by the way, got $55,000 from NEA last fiscal year. Another new dependent is Center for Media and Democracy, the parent of PR Watch and once a unit of Progressive Inc. before splitting apart over a variety of issues. NEA gave CMD $100,000 in 2014-2015.

Then there’s State Voices, the Detroit-based progressive outfit which focuses on faux-grassroots voter outreach efforts. NEA gave $378,966 to the group last fiscal year. Another voter advocacy outfit, Voter Participation Center, collected $170,000 from the union. The Tides Foundation’s Advocacy Fund, which provides dollars to various grassroots and progressive groups, received $25,000 from NEA last year.

At the same time, NEA bolstered its giving to black and other minority-oriented groups. It gave $250,000 to Schott Foundation for Public Education’s Opportunity to Learn Action Fund; this is 16.7 percent less than what the outfit received in 2013-2014. Despite the decline, Schott has done plenty on behalf of the union and AFT to oppose systemic reform; this includes Schott President John Jackson, co-writing a letter with Pedro Noguera and Judith Browne Dianis of the Advancement Project (which received $150,000 from the union in 2014-2015) criticizing civil rights groups for supporting standardized testing and the accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. On the other hand, NEA gave just $20,000 to Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, 83 percent less than it gave to the affiliate of the federal legislative caucus in 2013-2014.

As for other groups? NEA gave$100,000 to National Urban League, $100,000 to NAACP, $51,000 to Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, $45,000 to League of United Latin American Citizens and its institute (which backed the false accountability effort pushed by the union and AFT), $20,000 to the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies; $30,000 to Asian-Pacific American Labor Alliance, and $5,000 to National Black Caucus of State Legislators.

The union gave $200,000 to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network even though the civil rights leader is a strong supporter of charter schools. NEA also gave $255,000 to Center for American Progress, another strong reform-minded outfit, and handed out $54,625 to teacher quality reform outfit Teach Plus. Another reform outfit, Alliance for Excellent Education, received $200,000 from NEA last year.

As for the usual suspects? NEA gave $250,000 to Economic Policy Institute, while giving another $250,000 to the National Education Policy Center through the University of Colorado-Boulder’s foundation. Learning First Alliance collected $68,400 from NEA, while Education Law Center collected $75,000 from the union. FairTest, the traditionalist outfit which has been a key player in NEA’s efforts to roll back No Child’s accountability provisions and standardized testing, received $40,586 in 2014-2015, while National Board for Professional Teaching Standards collected $310,000 during the same period.

Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation, the group that represents the nation’s woeful university schools of education, received $388,363 from the union, while Barnett Berry’s Center for Teaching Quality got $438,837 from the union’s coffers. Voices for Education, the parent of Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education, collected $25,000 from NEA last year, while People for the American Way and its foundation collected $175,000 from the union during the same period. The Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, which serves as a go-to institution for NEA and other traditionalists, received $250,000 from the union.

What about the top honchos? NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia collected $416,633 in 2014-2015, a 21 percent increase over the previous year, and more than enough money to buy herself some new guitars. The union’s number two, Becky Pringle, was paid $371,278, a 10 percent increase over 2013-2014; while Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss was compensated to the tune of $429,851, a three-fold increase over her previous salary as a member of the union’s executive committee. Altogether, NEA’s big three collected $1.2 million in 2014-2015, barely budging over previous year’s levels. Not one thing wrong with NEA leaders drawing six-figure sums. But the high salaries (and the corporate ways the NEA and the AFT engage in their defense of traditionalist policies and thinking) should be kept in mind any time Eskelsen Garcia and AFT counterpart Weingarten use class warfare rhetoric to oppose systemic reform of American public education.

The corporate nature of NEA can be seen in the 395 staffers earning six-figure sums, a 21-person increase over levels in 2013-2014. Among the big check collectors is Stocks, who earned $407,264, a slight decline over the previous year; another is Alice O’Brien, NEA’s general counsel, who picked up $242,768, or 4.1 percent more than last year. The union’s membership czar, Bill Thompson, collected $271,024; that’s 17.9 percent more than in 2013-2014. Marcus Egan, one of the union’s top lobbyists, was compensated to the tune of $181,968, a 5.3 percent increase over the previous year. Once again, it is clear that being an NEA staffer is lucrative work. Whether the teachers who are often forced by compulsory dues laws to pay those salaries are benefiting is a different story.

About the Author:  RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

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