Analysis: Tracking the NEA’s and AFT’s $43 Million in Donations to PACs, Advocacy Organizations, Nonprofits — and the State Engagement Fund?
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The National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers are known as labor unions, advocates for teachers and public school employees, and political powerhouses. But they also are grantmaking institutions. During the 2018-19 school year, the two national teachers unions directly donated $43.1 million to more than 250 advocacy groups.
AFT’s $12.9 million in contributions were spread among 163 organizations. Its largest single grant — $1 million — went to Priorities USA, a Democratic Party super PAC. AFT President Randi Weingarten sits on its board of directors. The union also gave $650,000 to the House Majority PAC, another political action committee dedicated to gaining a majority for the Democratic Party in the U.S. House of Representatives.
AFT’s smaller grants went to a variety of groups, both related and unrelated to education and labor issues, from $300,000 to the Economic Policy Institute to $25,000 to the Yemeni American Merchants Association.
NEA gave its money in bigger chunks to fewer organizations. It distributed $30.2 million to 119 advocacy groups. Some of these overlapped with AFT donations, with NEA also contributing to the Economic Policy Institute ($200,000) and Priorities USA ($500,000).
But even these contributions were dwarfed by NEA’s largest single grant. The union gave $15.5 million to the State Engagement Fund in 2018-19, accounting for more than half of its total contributions to outside advocacy groups. The previous year, NEA contributed $14 million to the fund.
That’s a lot of money going to an organization without even a website or a social media presence.
So what is the State Engagement Fund? All we have are some old IRS disclosure reports to provide clues and draw inferences. Its K Street address and suite number in Washington, D.C., match the address of the Democracy Alliance. Anne Bartley is listed as the fund’s principal officer. Her bio states that she “participated in founding” the Democracy Alliance in 2005.
The alliance was created to be a network of wealthy liberal donors, described by Politico as “the left’s secret club.” But if these numbers are any indication, the organization is now much less a club for liberal billionaires and more an arm of labor unions and their allies in the Democratic Party.
The State Engagement Fund’s board includes Frank Smith, who is the Democracy Alliance’s senior political adviser, and Scott Anderson, executive director of the Committee on States, another progressive advocacy group that partners with the Democracy Alliance. The Committee on States was, coincidentally, also co-founded by Bartley, according to an internal memo uncovered by the Washington Free Beacon in 2014.
What does all this interlocking progressive political structure have to do with NEA? Another co-founder of the Committee on States is John Stocks, who served as NEA’s executive director for eight years before stepping down to act as the union’s senior adviser and “devote all of my time, my talents and my energy to the cause of saving our democracy,” as he told the union’s board of directors in February 2019.
Stocks was, and still is, the chairman of the board of the Democracy Alliance.
In addition to the $29.5 million NEA passed to the State Engagement Fund over the past two years, the union gave $441,000 directly to the Democracy Alliance, $425,000 to the Committee on States and $2.1 million to a joint project of those two organizations, the State Victory Fund, over the same two years.
In fact, NEA gave more money to these groups than it gave to its own state affiliates in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Minnesota, Florida, Georgia and Idaho — combined.
AFT chipped in with $75,000 to the Committee on States, $140,000 to the Democracy Alliance and $200,000 to the State Victory Fund during that period.
What all this means is that it is insufficient to try to track contributions made by the two national teachers unions directly to political campaigns and advocates. With such huge sums being diverted to the Democracy Alliance and its partnered organizations for distribution, we need more sunlight on these spigots of cash to truly measure the teachers unions’ political influence.
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