Early in 2014, before the huge wave of state elections later that year, National Education Association Political Director Karen White told me that the teachers’ union planned to spend 80 percent of its campaign war chest on state contests. As it turned out, the November results largely turned out to be a disappointment for K-12 unions, with Republicans increasing the number of governorships and statehouses they control. But just how much did education groups spend on state elections 2014, and where did they splash the cash?
The Center for Public Integrity, an investigative news agency, has some answers. A team of reporters there has tallied up the 50 biggest donors to state elections in the 2014 cycle, and the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers both made the list. The CPI reporters found that the NEA clocked in at 18th on the list, with donations of $6.8 million, while the AFT ranked 21st, with $6.4 million in state-election donations.
The center doesn’t just give the total dollar amounts, however. As you can see in the screen capture below of the NEA’s donations, the center breaks out which groups or individuals got the money and how much of it they got. (On the center’s website, you can hover over each little block to see what amount it represents and who got it.)
The biggest donation to a single candidate by the NEA was to Wisconsin Democrat Mary Burke, who got $43,000 of the union’s money in her run for governor, but lost to incumbent Republican Gov. Scott Walker in the general election. By contrast, Pennsylvania Democrat Tom Wolf was the candidate who got the most money from the AFT, which provided $581,000 to Wolf, who beat incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett in that state’s gubernatorial race last November. (You may remember that AFT President Randi Weingarten spent Election Night in the Keystone State, where Wolf had led Corbett in the polls by wide margins for months.)
You can also click on individual states to determine their top five election donors.
Both unions ranked ahead of state election giving by the Walmart multinational retail corporation and the Walt Disney Co., but behind the NextGen Climate Action Committee (5th), a group run by California billionaire Tom Steyer, and another labor union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (6th).
In an explanation of its methodology, the CPI says that it counted donations “made in 2013 and 2014 to candidates running in 2014 state-level elections and to state political parties, using data collected and processed as of Jan. 12, 2015, by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Additionally, the Center collected and analyzed contribution data from state campaign-finance agencies, the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service for 140 independent political groups active at the state level, as identified through political TV advertising data from media tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.”
No other single-issue group focused on education made it into the top 50.
The center also says that the methodology isn’t perfect, noting that independent groups not required to disclose donors were not included in its calculations. Crossroads GPS, which is led by Karl Rove, an adviser to former President George W. Bush, is one such independent group, and is classified as a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization.
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.