Single-largest political donor? Teacher unions

Which fat cat spends the most amount of money on political campaigns. Big oil? Big banks? Wal-Mart, the largest private-sector employer? Think again.

The largest political campaign spender in America is not a megacorporation, such as Wal-Mart, Microsoft, or ExxonMobil. It isn’t an industry association, like the American Bankers Association or the National Association of Realtors. It’s not even a labor federation, like the AFL-CIO. If you combine the campaign spending of all those entities it does not match the amount spent by the National Education Association, the public-sector labor union that represents some 2.3 million K–12 public school teachers and nearly a million education support workers (bus drivers, custodians, food service employees), retirees, and college student members. NEA members alone make up more than half of union members working for local governments, by far the most unionized segment of the U.S. economy.

That’s Mike Antonucci, a gadfly to teacher unions. Antonucci groups every state and the District of Columbia according to how much union money is spent per teacher in the jurisdiction. The money can come state or national resources.

The state with the most spending is Oregon, in which the NEA and its state affiliate spent $357 per teacher during the time period studied. The state with the median amount of spending is New Mexico, with $9.77 per teacher. Kansas lagged, at $6.30, per teacher, though it was in the same category ($6-10 per teacher) as Michigan and New Jersey, states with much larger budgets.

Antonucci points out that when they wish to act, the NEA and the smaller AFT can have a significant impact on states that have a modest union presence of their own. They would want to do so because what happens in one state can serve as an inspiration in another. For example, the NEA worked (successfully) to defeat a disclosure requirement in South Dakota.

In addition to funding candidates and campaign committees, the two unions and their state affiliates fund a lot of other organizations that serve their purposes. One, for example, opposes standardized testing. The NEA has also given a quarter-million dollars to a research organization that has issued several reports critical of charter schools, which with rare exception non-union.

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