Ed News Colorado Highlights Teachers Union Political Contributions, Member Refunds

The Independent Teachers website is not the only place keeping tabs on political contributions made with the professional dues money of Colorado public educators. This week, Ed News Colorado ran a great story by Nancy Mitchell documenting the recent history of campaign-related giving by the Colorado Education Association and its affiliates:

The CEA and its local unions gave more than $600,000 directly to state legislative candidates over the five years, often piling on in tight races. Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, the chair of the Senate Education Committee and one of the top recipients of teachers’ union donations, hit the contribution limit from the statewide CEA and from each of the Denver, Fort Collins and Jefferson County unions in his hard-fought 2004 election victory….

In 2008, as Colorado Democrats sought to build their leadership margins in the State House and Senate, local teachers’ unions increasingly gave to legislative candidates who did not represent their geographic area but who were locked in tight contests….

This has given a distinct teachers’ union edge to Democrats. Of the more than 100 candidates who received teachers’ union money over the past five years, fewer than 10 were Republican. Of the more than $75,000 the statewide CEA donated directly to political parties and their committees, fewer than $2,000 went to Republican groups such as the Senate Republican Majority Fund….

The CEA and its local affiliates gave more than $1.5 million to 527s in the past five years, including $10,000 to the conservative Colorado Leadership Fund to elect Republican candidates. But the great majority of those dollars went to seven apparently Democrat-leaning groups managed by the same registered agent and bookkeeper, Julie Wells. Wells did not respond to a request for comment.

Among the seven groups is the Colorado Citizens’ Coalition, the recipient of $200,000 from the CEA, which lists its mission as “to provide information to Colorado citizens.” The coalition filed reports indicating it was working on behalf of 17 legislative candidates – all Democrats. The coalition and several of the other 527s – Accountability for Colorado, Main Street Colorado, 21st-Century Colorado, Colorado Values – frequently sent money back and forth to each other.

The same article (and you really have to read it all) also takes notice of CEA’s political collection and refund mechanism for members — first documented in the Independence Institute issue paper Should Colorado School Districts Stop Collecting Political Funds? (PDF).

It’s certainly encouraging to see such an investigative validation of the work we do here — namely, notifying Colorado teachers of their rights and options.