Teachers’ Unions’ PAC’s Gave $5.2 Million in ‘89-'90 Elections

By Mark Pitsch — November 28, 1990 4 min read

Washington--Political-action committees affiliated with the national teachers’ unions spent nearly $5.2 million during the 1989-90 election cycle, including $3.23 million in contributions and direct expenditures for U.S. House and Senate campaigns, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Final statements, which will include information from the last days of the campaign that ended Nov. 6, are not due to be filed for two months.

The agency’s records indicate, however, that teachers'-union pac’s did not make any contributions to federal candidates after Oct. 17, the last day included on pre-election donation reports.

The National Education Association’s Political-Action Committee spent $3.81 million during the cycle, while raising $4.1 million, according to the records. Of that amount, $2.3 million went for contributions and direct expenditures for candidates for federal office, mostly Democrats.

The American Federation of Teachers’ Committee on Political Education, or cope, raised $1.5 million and spent $1.38 million, the records indicate. Cope spent $953,150 on federal-election campaigns, again mostly for Democrats.

The unions also contribute money to national and state political parties--also primarily the Democratic Party--and to other pac’s.

During the 1987-88 Presidential-election cycle, n.e.a.-pac raised $3.8 million and spent $3.6 million. Cope raised $1.5 million and spent $1.6 million during those years.

Other than federal contests, the two pac’s also donated money to gubernatorial candidates and the state parties. That data was not available from the Federal Election Commission, however, and the nea declined to disclose campaign-donation information. The aft said it contributed $240,000 to gubernatorial candidates and $60,000 to 13 state parties.

Federal law limits a pac’s contributions to a candidate to $5,000 in each election, with primary and general-election campaigns considered separately. In addition, pac’s may spend directly on behalf of candidates, provided they operate independently from the candidates’ campaigns.

Harvey Gantt, the Democratic challenger to Senator Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina, received the most help from the unions’ pac’s.

Mr. Gantt received a $10,000 contribution and $100,000 in paid expenditures from n.e.a.-pac, and a $15,000 contribution from cope.

N.e.a.-pac’s largest single donation over the two-year period, $20,000, went to Pete Geren, Democrat of Texas, who was elected in September 1989 to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of Speaker of the House Jim Wright. Mr. Geren easily won re-election this month.

Nine other candidates received more than $10,000 in contributions from n.e.a.-pac, while 99 other candidates received $10,000.

In total, n.e.a.-pac contributed $2,124,745 to 225 Democrats seeking federal office, and $153,010 to 47 Republicans.

In addition to Mr. Gantt, cope donated $15,000 each to Representatives Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York, and Jill Long, Democrat of Indiana, who was first elected to the House in March 1989 to fill the seat left vacant by the appointment of Daniel R. Coats to the Senate.

Cope gave more than $10,000 to four other candidates, and $10,000 each to 38 others.

Over all, the aft’s committee contributed $930,100 to 219 Democrats and $23,050 to 15 Republicans.

Senators Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island, and Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois, each received $10,000 from cope and n.e.a.-pac. Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, received $10,000 from cope and $5,965 from n.e.a.-pac, according to fec records, although the nea’s records show Mr. Harkin received $10,000 from its pac.

The three incumbents, who play major roles on education issues, were re-elected with ease despite being targeted for defeat by prominent Republicans.

House members who hold key education-related committee posts also received substantial amounts from the teacher pac’s.

They included William D. Ford, Democrat of Michigan, $10,000 from n.e.a.-pac and $7,100 from cope; Dale E. Kildee, Democrat of Michigan, $10,000 from n.e.a.-pac and $7,500 from cope; Pat Williams, Democrat of Montana, $10,000 from each pac; and Silvio O. Conte, Republican of Massachusetts, $7,500 from n.e.a.-pac.

The teachers'-union pac’s also contributed heavily to several freshmen representatives, particularly Democrats thought to be in tight races.

The national unions were able to do little, however, to prevent the re-election defeat of Representative Peter Smith, Republican of Vermont, who had emerged as activist on education issues during his first term.

The union pac’s each made modest contributions to Mr. Smith in 1989. Subsequently, however, the unions’ state affiliates endorsed an independent candidate, Bernard Sanders, and so prevented the pac’s from contributing to Mr. Smith in the general election, which Mr. Sanders won.

A version of this article appeared in the November 28, 1990 edition of Education Week as Teachers’ Unions’ PAC’s Gave $5.2 Million in ‘89-'90 Elections