The Teachers Unions’ Supreme Chutzpah

The Teachers Unions’ Supreme Chutzpah

NEA and AFT leaders cavil at Supreme Court decision that eases rules on political funding.

Nothing gives me an advanced case of the vapors quicker than the subject of political campaign finance laws. Trying to figure out who can give how much to whom and when, and how many dollars can be donated to a PAC, who is allowed to involve themselves in “dark money” and who has to report what are matters that are more confounding than trying to follow anything Harry Reid says. (Okay, that would actually be a close call.)

In any event, last week the Supreme Court ruled to strike down a cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to federal candidates in a two-year election cycle. While this doesn’t seem to be a radical move to me, the SCOTUS ruling did not please everyone. And perhaps the unhappiest of all were the nation’s teachers unions. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten issued a press release harrumphing:

With this ruling, the voices of everyday Americans have gotten squashed again. We once had rules that allowed everyone a fair shot at the American dream and access to democracy, but now access to government is reserved for the most powerful and influential with millions and millions of dollars to buy elections. (Emphasis added.)

The avalanche of money spent on elections would be better spent creating jobs, improving our neighborhood public schools, fixing our disintegrating infrastructure and building a better future for our children.

Ms. Weingarten is guilty of uttering two tired union conceits: she trots out “our children” and then blasts the “most powerful and influential” from her perch atop one of the “most powerful and influential” organizations in the country.

In a rare occurrence, National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel out-demagogued his AFT counterpart in his official statement on the decision:

America’s working families lost today when the Supreme Court’s ruling on McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission effectively removed meaningful limits on the total amount an individual can directly contribute to candidates, political parties and political committees. The ruling creates yet another loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to political parties, candidates and multi-candidate PACs.

At a time when the lop-sided playing field unfairly benefits the haves over the have-nots, the McCutcheon decision opens the floodgates even further for corporations and the monied elite to dominate our democracy. The majority opinion goes on to strike down aggregate limits that only prevent the very richest in our society from contributing to every campaign they would like and, thereby, dominating the political discourse.

Our country was founded on the premise that democracy is not for sale. No kindergarten teacher, school nurse, librarian, food service worker or school bus driver can compete with the deep pockets of billionaires. Taken together with Citizens United, today’s decision guts America’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.

Reality-averse, Van Roekel ignores the fact that his own union is a special interest that:

a) takes advantage of “loopholes.”

b)  is a “monied elite.”

c)  dominates “the political discourse.”

d)  benefits from “Citizens United.”

The union bosses’ statements can be summed up in three simple words. “It’s not fair.” To which I say, “Is too.” (And by the way, you two, the whining is quite disingenuous.) What follows are just a few little things that should disabuse anyone of believing that these unions are selfless guardians of the disenfranchised.

The NEA and AFT combine to bring in over $550 million a year in dues. Then, as unions, they get to duck paying a penny of income tax on that half billion plus dollars.

And just what do they do with all this money? They spend a lot of it on politics. In fact, NEA is ranked #3 nationally on Open Secrets heavy-hitter list. From 1989-2014, NEA spent $58,783,738 on candidates, PACs, etc. AFT comes in at #12, spending $37,039,075 during the same 25 year period. But if you combine the two teachers unions’ political gifting they come in second, spending almost $96 million between them.

It’s important to note that these dollar amounts do not include money spent on politics by the national unions’ state and local affiliates. For example, the California Teachers Association, the biggest political spender in the Golden State, unleashed $290 million on politics from 2000-2013.

What the unions don’t broadcast is that much of the money they bring in is not given willingly by teachers. In 26 states and D.C., teachers must pay tribute to the union if they want to teach in a public school. (Yes, there are ways for teachers to wriggle out of the part of dues that goes to politics, but the unions make it very difficult to do so. And the lawyers of a recent lawsuit make a legitimate case that just about everything these unions do inherently involves “controversial and important political and ideological issues.”)

Also, the union leaders’ faux populism reveals itself in the destination of its largesse. According to an internal poll, NEA found that its members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” Does the union’s spending reflect this diversity?

Hardly. NEA spends money on Democrats at a 14:1 ratio. And AFT is even more one-sided: it spends zero on right of center candidates.

So when Van Roekel complains that, “No kindergarten teacher, school nurse, librarian, food service worker or school bus driver can compete with the deep pockets of billionaires,” I guess he only means Democrat teachers, nurses, etc.   

The bottom line is that good people can disagree as to how best to reform our arcane campaign finance laws. But until the teachers unions begin to comport themselves with decency, honesty, and fairness, they don’t deserve anything but our scorn. 

As Kevin Williamson wrote in NRO, “This isn’t about getting rich guys out of politics — it’s about the NEA and the AFT keeping competition off the field.” And to the consternation of NEA/CTA, the Supreme Court decision will hopefully make that field just a bit more level.

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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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