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Fine Print: NJEA PAC’s Report Shows Union Sharing Wealth with Candidates

Teachers union lists $1.4 million in spending, most of it for hot legislative campaigns and counties

Vince Giordano, executive director of the NJEA.
Vince Giordano, executive director of the NJEA.

What it is: The New Jersey Education Association Political Action Committee (NJEA PAC) last week filed its latest Receipts and Expenditures Quarterly Report with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. It covers spending by the union’s political arm on the November 5 gubernatorial and legislative elections.

What it means: The 31-page report shows how NJEA PAC spreads its wealth to more than 100 different organizations with a stake in the 2013 elections, be it for individual candidates or tickets or for county and state party apparatus. It is the most that the NJEA PAC has spent at this point in a state election, said the union’s director, reflective of the union’s investment in the race not just for governor but also the Legislature. The list is predominantly Democratic, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono, but the NJEA includes a few Republicans in its largesse.

The totals: The NJEA PAC lists $1,439,772.32 in expenditures and another $353,424.19 in the bank. Of the total, $1.2 million went to legislative candidates or committees.

What it’s not: The report is a fraction of the NJEA’s overall spending thus far, with nearly $6 million paid out by its Super PAC, Garden State Forward, much of it to the benefit Buono, the Democratic challenger to Gov. Chris Christie.

Quote: “We are all in this year, as much as we have ever been,” said Vince Giordano, the executive director of the NJEA. “I don’t think that should surprise anyone.”

Where it comes from: The money in the NJEA PAC comes out of voluntary contributions from the union’s 200,000 members. It is not derived from dues. The Super PAC, however, is funded from dues.

As much about the Legislature: With Buono trailing Christie badly in the polls, the NJEA is focusing on at least retaining the Democratic majority in the Senate and Assembly. “In many ways, just as important is protecting the Legislature,” he said.

A last hurrah: After 43 years in the union, Giordano is stepping down as director of the NJEA on December 1, and one of his last acts is managing the NJEA’s PAC. The union’s government relations chief, Ginger Gold Schnitzer, would normally oversee it, but she is running the Super PAC. That leaves Giordano the final say in determining who the PAC contributes to and how much. “I have gotten more involved in the politics than ever before, and certainly met a lot of interesting people,” Giordano said. “It’s definitely been an interesting experience.”

Largest sum: The biggest individual contributions are $25,000 each to Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Passaic, and Mercer counties’ respective Democratic organizations. After that, the maximum $24,600 was contributed to the joint committees of two campaigns critical to the NJEA: the Democratic ticket led by state Sen. Jeff Van Drew in the hotly contested 1st District, and that of Marie Corfield, the NJEA-backed teacher running for Assembly in the 16th.

Republicans, too: There’s a handful of Republican incumbents on the NJEA’s endorsement list, including members of the Senate education committee and the GOP’s leadership. They include Senate Republican Leader Thomas Kean Jr. ($6,000), Sen. Diane Allen ($5,500), and Assembly Republican Leader John Bramnick ($6,000).

Three weeks to go: This is, of course, not the end of the NJEA’s contribution to the campaigns, with both bountiful dollars and manpower still available. “We will be making more contributions,” Giordano said. The next and final campaign finance report comes after the election.

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