Already one of the biggest campaign spenders in the nation, the National Education Association is poised to become still more influential through its creation of a super political action committee, which has no set limits on how much the union can spend on political activity.
There were quite a few breathless headlines last week when Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, a labor umbrella organization, announced it would set up a super PAC and funnel less money directly to Democrats. The NEA beat the AFL-CIO by 10 months, filing the papers to create a super PAC last October.
There are a few key differences between traditional PACs and so-called super PACs. Traditional PACs have been around since the mid-20th century and allow direct campaign contributions, subject to specific rules and spending caps. Notably, they can only be funded through voluntary donations by union members, not through dues deductions.
Super PACs sprung up in the wake of the ruling in last year’s Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. They cannot be used to directly fund candidates, but they can be used to advocate for and against candidates in other ways. And, of course, there are no caps on this spending.
So far, the union has spent some $4 million through the super PAC, mainly to finance groups opposing Republican candidates. Find out more at opensecrets.org.
As far as I can tell, the American Federation of Teachers has not set up a super PAC of its own.. But as an AFL-CIO member, the AFT will probably be able to influence the spending of that group’s Super PAC dollars. (Despite some rapprochement, NEA remains officially unaffiliated with the AFL-CIO.)
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.