State Teachers Union Shatters Records for Political Spending

John Mooney | March 7, 2014 | Education, Politics
Total of nearly $20 million in political expenditures by NJEA and its PACs far exceeds lobbying budget for any other special-interest group

The New Jersey Education Association finished 2013 with its biggest tab yet for lobbying and political spending – in fact, the amount far exceeded spending by any other individual lobbying organization in the state.

The teachers union, representing nearly 200,000 teachers and school staff statewide, spent more than $3 million on lobbying efforts last year, according to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Adding in record spending by its PAC and super PAC brings the union’s estimated total to more than $19.5 million spent in 2013, according to ELEC.

“This is unprecedented,” said Jeffrey Brindle, ELEC’s executive director said yesterday. “When you combine NJEA’s lobbying and campaign spending, no single interest group has ever come close.”

Putting the expenditures in a different perspective, he added: “NJEA spent 16 times more total on lobbying and elections combined in 2013 than it did 10 years earlier.”

NJEA has always been a political titan in the state, but it took its political spending to a new level in 2013 with the creation of its super PAC, Garden State Forward.

The super PAC ended up spending more than $14 million in the state’s 2013 elections, about half on the gubernatorial election and half on the legislative races.

By comparison, Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign spent close to $20 million in both the primary and general elections.

But the NJEA’s separate lobbying largesse nonetheless only bolstered its dominance, even in a year when there were few high-profile legislative matters on the docket for the union. The state’s tenure-reform law was passed the year before, and the pension and health-benefits battles took place a year before that.

Still, the union outspent every other organization in the state last year on lobbying, the bulk of it on television advertising buys. According to the latest reports, more than $2.9 million of the total $3.3 million spent by the union itself was for television advertising.

Ginger Gold Schnitzer, the NJEA’s government relations director, said the bulk of the lobbying spending was on ad campaigns related to school funding and student testing.

“If you look at the reports, not everything was on traditional lobbying,” she said.

Still, Schintzer said 2013 proved to be a big year for the union is continuing to exert its political influence, with the reins loosened for the super PAC by the U.S. Supreme Court in its Citizens United decision, which allowed for unfettered political spending.

“In the post-Citizens United world, independent spending is what everyone is doing,” she said. “We are trying not to become the next Ohio or Wisconsin (where new curbs were placed on collective bargaining), and no regrets on that.”

Given the close races in three or four legislative elections last fall, Schintzer said, the NJEA’s money was well-spent.

“If not for that, we could have different results,” she said.