Members of the Tennessee Education Association say no dues collected from teachers go to help Hillary Clinton and other left-of-center candidates.
New research says otherwise.
TEA spokesman Jim Wrye was adamant in an address to the General Assembly in February that no member dues were used to promote political candidates.
The TEA is the National Education Association’s state affiliate. Through the so-called Unified Due Structure, TEA member dues fund the group’s local, state and national affiliates, reportedly to lobby politicians to pass laws favorable to their cause.
“No dues money goes to political purposes for the NEA,” Wrye told legislators during a hearing captured on video.
“All members have the option to contribute to the TEA political PAC or not to contribute to the PAC. That is an option. No one has to participate in politics. It is additional money not in the dues money,” he said, meaning NEA members collect PAC funds through voluntary donations.
But that’s not true of Super-PAC money, according to a new report.
On The 74, a news site covering education, Mike Antonucci said NEA members take money from the union’s general fund and use it on Super PACs to promote political candidates. NEA members can use Super PACS to raised unlimited amounts of money as long as they don’t contribute or coordinate directly with candidates or political parties.
The NEA has no obligation to tell its members about this, Antonucci reported.
No one at the TEA or the NEA responded to repeated requests for comment last week or this week.
“Ultimately, nine members of the union’s executive committee — elected by delegates to handle day-to-day affairs — decide how much of the fund goes to the Super PAC and how it is spent,” Antonucci wrote.
The NEA has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.
In an article for the Education Intelligence Agency this month, Antonucci says the NEA uses its membership dues to help her candidacy.
“NEA’s Super PAC, member communications, independent expenditures and media buys that are not coordinated with the Clinton campaign all come from membership dues money,” he said, quoting what he found on OpenSecrets.org.
“NEA isn’t worried about whether you are a Sanders supporter, or how you will vote in the primaries, or even if you are a Republican, Green, Libertarian or Communist. The votes over the weekend authorize the union to spend the money from all members to promote Clinton’s candidacy.”
NEA’s Super PAC alone raised and spent about $21 million in 2014, according to the article.
“To repeat: If it’s a check to the Clinton campaign, it comes from voluntary PAC money. To use dues money for such a contribution is a criminal act,” Antonucci reported.
“Any other campaign or communications spending by the union not coordinated in any way with the Clinton campaign comes from dues money and is perfectly legal.”
Antonucci cited the NEA’s Facebook page, where he says nearly 1,000 members complained about the NEA endorsing Clinton.
“It’s important to clarify what the union is intent on obfuscating. Even NEA directors are telling members, ‘Your dues do not support this. All campaign expenditures come out of the NEA Fund, not membership dues; two separate entities.’ This is not true.”
Amanda Angel, who taught public school in Chattanooga, resisted the TEA’s attempts to recruit her. The reason: She learned the NEA donated to Planned Parenthood, a liberal organization she doesn’t like, she told Tennessee Watchdog.
Angel said she and many of her colleagues were either politically conservative or politically independent, but many joined the union, regardless.
“Some of my other co-workers nodded along and said they agreed but that they would play ball and join and pay their dues. They had reservations but they were pressured into doing it, so they did it,” Angel said.
“Teachers don’t make a lot of money. Even 20-dollar dues are a big deal to someone who only makes $28,000 a year, which is on the low end of what teachers make. Knowing exactly what these dues are paying for is important.”
According to USA Today, the NEA has collected more than $14 million in Super-PAC money toward influencing this year’s elections.
In Tennessee, Wrye told legislators, NEA dues are $15 per month. TEA dues are $28.50.
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