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Union watchdog claims prominent teachers unions spent millions on politics instead of representing members

A watchdog analysis of funds spent by the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers unions over the last year discovered millions of dollars were prioritized for political purposes instead of supporting teachers and students.

Americans for Fair Treatment, a national nonprofit organization supporting public employees, found that the NEA spent $10 million more on politics and lobbying than it did representing its members. Similarly, the AFT spent $46.9 million on politics in 2023, a $11.2 million increase from the previous reporting period, according to the analysis provided exclusively to the Washington Examiner.

The filings from the Department of Labor found that the AFT spent 14% of its dues on political activities and lobbying and that the NEA spent 10% on the same thing. To compare, 27% of AFT and nearly 8% of NEA spending went toward “representational activities,” the category most similar to labor representation — which the watchdog said is the “primary job of a labor union.”

The report comes as conservatives and other critics continue to blast teachers unions such as the AFT and the NEA for engaging in social and cultural politics over representing their members and supporting students, which some say has led to low test scores across the nation. People such as AFT President Randi Weingarten, who supported closing schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, have blamed low scoring on remote schooling, which has also angered Republicans and other critics. Some school leaders have accused teachers unions of wanting to turn students into Democratic voters, as well.

NEA hid political spending within the contributions category

The NEA’s financial filings, covering Sept. 1, 2022, through Aug. 31, 2023, detailed that the union increased political and lobbying expenditures by $8.5 million while representational spending only increased by $2 million. According to the analysis, the NEA’s reported spending on political activities and lobbying accounted for $50.1 million, “though the union hid additional political spending” in the “contributions, gifts, and grants” category.

The union reported spending $126.3 million on contributions, gifts, and grants. However, the watchdog said it found several million dollars hidden within the expense category that were political in nature. For example, the NEA donated $4.1 million to the State Engagement Fund, a progressive advocacy organization, and $3.5 million to For Our Future, a Democratic super PAC. Another $500,000 was donated to the Color of Change Education Fund, which has been linked to George Soros, a liberal billionaire often attacked by conservatives for his support of “soft-on-crime” district attorneys and other prosecutors.

Unions also have spent member dues on political initiatives in various states, per the watchdog’s analysis. In 2023, the union gave $4 million to Fair Share Massachusetts, an advocacy group supporting the millionaire’s tax in the state. One Person One Vote, a group opposing the since-defeated constitutional amendment in Ohio that would have raised the threshold of amendment voter approval, received $1.1 million from the NEA.

The union also reported losing 14,205 members during the recent reporting period, contributing to a total loss of 51,987 members since 2021.

“Year after year, AFT and NEA prioritize politics over people,” watchdog CEO Elisabeth Messenger said to the Washington Examiner. “It’s disappointing that even as they lose members, the unions continue to increase the portion of their budgets allocated to politics and lobbying. We’re proud of our members who have chosen to hold these unions accountable, and we encourage all teachers to take a hard look at whether their union truly has their best interests in mind.”

AFT spending put dues to political use

The AFT, as noted by the watchdog, has taken a prominent position in political and cultural debates over the last few years. Though spending on representation decreased, the AFT spent $46.9 million of members’ dues on politics from 2022 to 2023, according to the analysis.

The analysis marked several instances where the AFT, whose filings covered July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023, donated to congressional and national campaigns, such as $500,000 to Charlie Crist, the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Florida, $500,000 to House Majority PAC, which worked to elect a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, and $600,000 to the Democratic Governors Association. Similar to the NEA, the AFT donated $1.5 million to For Our Future.

Federal law states that union member dues can be used for political activities, such as advocacy, get-out-the-vote campaigns, and lobbying, among others.

The Washington Examiner reached out to the AFT and the NEA for comment.

-Washington Examiner

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