Teachers’ Unions, Others Put Cash on Line in Senate Races

By Lauren Camera — October 22, 2014 3 min read

Despite the increased focus by teachers’ unions on state-election spending in the 2014 cycle, union spending on federal races is still significant, especially with control of the U.S. Senate up for grabs.

The National Education Association’s super-PAC, in its most recent Federal Election Commission filings alone—representing spending through the end of September—reported directing $250,000 to North Carolina Citizens for Protecting Our Schools in an effort to help Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan. She is in a hard-fought contest with Republican state Speaker of the House Thom Tillis.

Sen. Hagan has hammered Speaker Tillis for his role in passing a series of state budgets that blocked more than $500 million in education spending, resulting in larger classes and a shortage in school supplies. But Mr. Tillis has touted the fiscal 2015 budget he helped negotiate, which restructured teacher-salary schedules and resulted in pay raises across the board.

In that same race, the super-PAC also spent big on media and advertising this past quarter. In particular, it handed over $3.6 million to Waterfront Strategies, a media-buying firm that serves primarily Democratic-aligned super-PACs and nonprofits, according to the Center for Public Integrity, an independent, Washington-based nonprofit that tracks money in politics. That money was used, in part, for TV ads opposing Mr. Tillis.

The political-spending arms of the American Federation of Teachers, for their part, had directed more than $1 million through Sept. 30 to the Senate Majority PAC, whose main goal is to protect the Democrats’ hold on the Senate.

See Also

Democrats for Education Reform, the political action committee meant to help counter the teachers’ unions’ influence on the Democratic Party, also got into the federal game this election cycle.

Earlier this year, DFER launched a new fundraising website and has spent thousands of dollars in support of Sen. Hagan and fellow incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., a charter school champion who is in a tough, three-way race with U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, a Republican, and tea-party-backed candidate Rob Maness. DFER is also supporting incumbent Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a fan of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant program, who is expected to defeat Republican Kevin Wade.

Relationships of Mutual Benefit

Teachers’ unions and other education-focused groups aren’t the only ones financially aiding federal candidates who could affect the education policy landscape in years to come. The political-finance machines behind teachers’ unions are especially adept at partnering with other groups to back candidates the partners may support for different reasons.

This election cycle, the NEA and the AFT worked alongside major Democratic groups, like the Senate Majority PAC and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which are focused on maintaining the party’s hold on that chamber.

The teacher groups have partnered with other unions, including the Service Employees International Union, which is pushing candidates on immigration issues, among other priorities. And they’ve teamed up with groups like People for the American Way, which supports various candidates with progressive policy agendas, and EMILY’s List, which typically backs women candidates who support abortion rights.

Such relationships can be particularly effective if a candidate begins losing momentum.

In late September, for example, incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, a Democrat who enjoyed a consistent lead in the polls all summer, found himself in a dead heat with U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, his Republican challenger.

The NEA super-PAC put $200,000 into a Spanish-language TV ad buy that ran for two weeks in the Denver and Colorado Springs markets. The spot criticized Rep. Gardner for voting in favor of the federal fiscal 2015 House budget, which would have cut access to the Pell Grant, a college-aid program for low- and middle-income students.

The 30-second spot was designed to target Hispanic and other Spanish-speaking voters. It is part of a larger effort led by a coalition of political action committees, including that of the SEIU, all of which launched an ad focusing on immigration and on the Dream Act for undocumented young immigrants, and the Senate Majority PAC and People for the American Way. They collectively plan to spend more than $1 million backing Sen. Udall through the Nov. 4 election.

A version of this article appeared in the October 29, 2014 edition of Education Week as With U.S. Senate Control at Stake, Money Flows to Key Contests


Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Embracing Student Engagement: The Pathway to Post-Pandemic Learning
As schools emerge from remote learning, educators are understandably worried about content and skills that students would otherwise have learned under normal circumstances. This raises the very real possibility that children will face endless hours
Content provided by Newsela
Teaching Live Online Discussion How to Develop Powerful Project-Based Learning
How do you prepare students to be engaged, active, and empowered young adults? Creating a classroom atmosphere that encourages students to pursue critical inquiry and the many skills it requires demands artful planning on the

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Republicans Want Federal Funding Cuts to Schools Using '1619 Project'—But There's a Twist
A bill from U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton, Mitch McConnell, and others targets schools using lessons based on the New York Times Magazine series.
4 min read
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 20, 2021.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights on Capitol Hill.
Evelyn Hockstein/AP
Federal What's at Stake in a Review of Federal Sex Discrimination Protections for Students
The Biden administration's review of Title IX may prompt new guidance on how schools deal with sexual harassment and protect LGBTQ students.
10 min read
Image of gender symbols drawn in chalk.
Federal Opinion Education Outlets Owe Readers More Than the Narratives They Want to Hear
It's vital that serious news organizations challenge runaway narratives and help readers avoid going down ideological rabbit holes.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Federal As GOP Leaves K-12 Out of Its Infrastructure Plan, Advocates Look For Alternatives
The GOP is proposing $1 trillion in federal dollars for the nation's infrastructure, but school buildings aren't part of their proposal.
6 min read
A trash can and pink kiddie pool are used to collect water that leaks from the roof into the media center at Green County High School in Snow Hill, N.C..
A trash can and pink kiddie pool are used to collect water that leaks from the roof into the media center at Green County High School in Snow Hill, N.C.
Alex Boerner for Education Week