Unions Spending Record AmountsOn '82 Campaign
Bent on blunting what they see as a federally organized attack on public education, the nation's two leading teachers' organizations, with a combined membership of nearly 2.2 million, are putting unprecedented efforts into this year's Congressional elections.
The 1.6-million-member National Education Association (nea) estimates it will have contributed $1.2 million to Congressional candidates by the time voters go to the polls on Nov. 2. That is four times the amount it gave to candidates in 1980, a presidential election year.
The smaller American Federation of Teachers (aft) plans to distribute about $500,000 to Congressional candidates, compared with $300,000 in 1980. This year's campaign fund is twice the amount the aft spent in 1978, the last time Congressional elections were held without a Presidential race.
"The reason? We've looked at Reaganomics, the Administration's attempt to abolish the Department of Education, their tuition tax-credits plan; you name it, it's all bad," said Joseph J. Standa, a political specialist for the nea.
"It's Reagan, education budget cuts, teacher layoffs, threats to Social Security, an economy on the verge of collapse," commented Rachelle Horowitz, aft's political director. "Our members are more impressed by a lack of textbooks than by stock-market jumps."
"Most of the Republicans [in Congress] turned into Reagan clones [during the past session of Congress]," Ms. Horowitz said. "Our goal is to get some Democrats into the House who will support public education and oppose tuition tax credits."
Most of the candidates receiving the unions' support are Democrats.
The aft has endorsed 22 candidates for Senate seats, all of them Democrats. The nea has endorsed 32 candidates for the Senate, 5 of them Republicans.
In races for the House of Representatives, the nea has endorsed 304 of the 435 candidates, including 15 Republicans. The aft has endorsed 252 House candidates, including 2 Republicans.
Aside from raising large amounts of money through voluntary contributions from members, the unions have mobilized their members in drives to get out the vote, to distribute literature door to door, and even to baby-sit for voters on election day.
Mr. Standa of the nea said his organization has 200 teachers manning phone banks in each Congressional district.
In addition to their efforts at the federal level, the unions report that their state affiliates are also campaigning harder than ever for state and local candidates sympathetic to their goals.
For example, the aft's California affiliate, the California Federation of Teachers, reports it has spent $100,000 in campaign contributions, while the nea affiliate in the state, the California Teachers Association, has already spent $600,000, according to Mr. Standa.