The country’s two largest teachers' unions -- the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers -- spent a combined $330 million in the past five years on outside causes, political campaigns, lobbying and issue education, the Wall Street Journal reports.
According to annual reports filed with the Labor Department, some of the spending identified as “political and lobbying” activities went to election consultants, voter mobilization and advertising. Millions went to PACs that donate almost exclusively to Democratic candidates and committees, while organizations promoting causes like women’s rights and African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American civil rights also received money.
Members’ dues underwrite much of the unions’ political activities, but donations to candidates, parties and PACs are funded by voluntary contributions.
The teachers' unions told the Journal that their donations help build a network of groups supporting better worker benefits and educational equality for children. Some contributions benefit the unions in turn by fostering political support on Capitol Hill and in statehouses.
Some teachers hold differing political views from their fellow union members. For instance, several former and current NEA members at last week’s convention in Washington said union donations to groups that support abortion rights and gay-and-lesbian rights violate their faith. In such cases, they ask for religious “accommodation” that funnels their dues to other charitable organizations according to Judy Bruns, a former teacher from Ohio and active member of the NEA.
Additionally, Republican teachers in attendance at the convention found that the union's overall political outlook differed with their own.
"What I don't like is the harassment going on for people to be an 'EFO' -- an educator for Obama," Maureen van Wagner, a special education teacher from Anchorage, Alaska, told the Associated Press.
Both the NEA and AFT partner with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual groups when it comes to anti-bullying efforts in schools and equality issues. They also gave hundreds of thousands to groups that lobbied for Obama’s health care overhaul.
The NEA was the top combined state and federal contributor to 2008 races with $45 million -- more than 90 percent of which went to Democratic campaigns, according to the Journal. At last year’s convention, it became the first large national union to endorse Obama’s 2012 campaign.
As for this year, between Jan. 1 and May 31 the AFT and NEA made a combined 348 contributions to candidates and other groups that amounted to more than $2.6 million.