The political ideology favored by teachers’ unions is not reflective of all members

Teachers’ unions are one of the largest political campaign spenders in the country. But the members these unions represent do not get to choose who or what their hard-earned money supports. Union dues are spent on political advocacy that does not reflect the beliefs or priorities of many of its members. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop the union from advancing its own agenda.

Education Minnesota—the state’s most politically powerful teachers’ union—released a “Guide to the 2018 Education Minnesota gubernatorial endorsement,” detailing out the screening process for candidates looking to “earn” the union’s support. Endorsements for governor and other state offices are made by Education Minnesota’s Political Action Committee (PAC), and the PAC “invited all declared candidates from both political parties to seek the Education Minnesota gubernatorial endorsement.”

At the time of the guide’s release, there were nine candidates who indicated they would pursue the endorsement: seven from the DFL platform, one running as an Independent, and one GOP candidate. But even with the union’s open invitation to both sides of the political spectrum, the Star Tribune reported Education Minnesota’s intent to most likely endorse a DFL candidate for governor before the party’s convention.

This is not surprising because Education Minnesota’s long-term contribution trends consistently favor, with rare exceptions, Democrat or DFL candidates for elective office.

In 2016, for example, Education Minnesota’s PAC financially supported 155 DFL candidates versus only three GOP candidates (the PAC even had to amend its report because a contribution to an additional GOP candidate was incorrectly entered).

Source: Education Minnesota PAC’s 2016 Report of Receipts and Expenditures

The PAC directly contributed almost $75,000 to these DFL candidates compared to the $1,000 directly contributed to GOP candidates.

Source: Education Minnesota PAC’s 2016 Report of Receipts and Expenditures

Besides direct contributions, the PAC reported expenditures that went toward promoting political candidates mainly through phone banking, advertisements, radio ads, and printing and postage. Just over $468,000 was spent to advocate for DFL candidates (including nearly $28,000 to promote Hillary Clinton), with around $2,400 spent on GOP advocacy.

DFL political affiliates, such as the DFL House Caucus and DFL Senate Districts, received $873,000 in contributions (cash and in-kind donations) compared to the $1,400 that went to the House Republican Campaign Committee and the GOP Senate Victory fund.

Source: Education Minnesota PAC’s 2016 Report of Receipts and Expenditures

The PAC also disbursed over $1 million to political committees and political funds. These organizations and funds align with left-wing ideologies and overwhelmingly support Democratic or DFL candidates.

This doesn’t account for the millions spent by the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) also in support of primarily Democratic candidates and liberal groups. (Minnesota teachers are forced to pay dues to these national affiliates, as well.)

Source: Center for Responsive Politics

But the state’s teachers’ union represents over 80,000 voices, and not all of them fully embrace the same political ideology as Education Minnesota.

Even if their political views are closely associated with the left, there are multiple candidates that run against each other within each party. Which means teachers are forced to support the candidate the union favors, undermining their own political preferences. As my colleague Kim Crockett wrote in our soon-to-be-released Spring 2018 Thinking Minnesota:

Teachers, for example, who supported presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in 2016 were forced to support Hillary Clinton and the DNC. And teachers who supported a Republican candidate were forced to support Hillary Clinton and the DNC. What about teachers who did not support any candidate?

Education Minnesota contributes $25 of member dues every year directly to its PAC, causing its members to think very little money goes toward politics. Especially when members can request a refund of the allocation. But all collective bargaining is political, which means teachers finance political expenditures by default.

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in June could change this narrative. A ruling in favor of Mark Janus in Janus v. AFSCME would free teachers and all public-sector employees from forced union spending that does not reflect their priorities. Education Minnesota and other government unions oppose a pro-plaintiff ruling because politics are a big deal to them, but it’s time the voices of those they represent became an even bigger deal.