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July 20, 2010

Follow the Money: UFT’s Political Fundraising Highest in Ten Years

In a recent article in the journal EducationNext, Mike Antonucci  reviewed the finances of the two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). He found teachers unions in states like Oregon, Colorado, and Montana spent several hundreds of dollars per teacher for political campaign spending on candidates and ballot initiatives. New York, according to Antonucci, spent only $5 per teacher.

But this is only part of the picture. Another source of political spending can be found in financial documents that the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) filed with the federal government.  According to this "LM-2" filing, the UFT spent around $31 per teacher, or a little over $2.4million overall, out of a $202 million budget, on political activities during the 2008-2009 school year.* The UFT membership, however, consists of more than just teachers. If you included total UFT membership—164,462—spending on political activities would be around $16 per member.  (To be clear, Antonucci only considered active teachers in his calculations.)

In addition to this spending, which includes things like lobbying, buses to events, and phone banks, the UFT has a political action committee (PAC). The PAC is a stand-alone group whose specific purpose is to dole out money to politicians, groups, and ballot measures that the union supports. The UFT's PAC, known as the Committee on Political Education ("COPE"), is funded by voluntary member contributions as well as other sources.

COPE spent $187,411 in 2008-2009 on donations to politicians. The fund’s balance—that is the amount that can theoretically be given away—has also dramatically increased, to $1.35 million in July 2009, from an average of $124,000 during 2000-2005.  Furthermore, contributions to the COPE—that is, the amount that members decide they would like to contribute to the union’s political activities—have reached their highest level in ten years. In contrast, the amount the UFT spent on political activities independent of COPE has remained relatively constant at around two and a half million dollars annually.

Much of the increase in political giving could be due to the pressure that teachers unions around the country have faced. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal today, charter supporters outspent the UFT during by about $100,000 during this same period. Last year spending could have been particularly high due to the mayoral race, although the increase in COPE’s political spending pre-dated the race by several years.

Although the dues for UFT members vary by job type, teachers are required to contribute $47.27 of their paycheck semi-monthly to the UFT. This means that around 3% of a typical teachers UFT dues is spent on political activity. UFT members can also elect to send part of their paycheck to COPE. According to the UFT handbook, this voluntary contribution is usually around $5 per paycheck.

The UFT’s LM-2 also lists the amount of time that UFT employees spend on various activities. My analyses found that 61 of the 623 paid UFT employees, or around 10%, spent more than a quarter of their time on political activities. Overall, around 7% of all UFT employee activities are devoted to political lobbying.

The majority of the UFT’s funds were spent on benefits for members, consultants, and lawyers. However, the UFT, like the AFT and the NEA, also spends a significant amount of its funds supporting liberal causes. The biggest donations were to groups like ACORN and the National Action Network. The UFT also contributed small sums to a wide number of community organizations and to a number of religious, political and ethnic organizations like the American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center, Empire State Pride Agenda, Inc. and the Hispanic Federation. (A full breakdown of the UFT’s contributions is available below and in this spreadsheet.)

Salary-wise, 85, or 13%, of the 624 UFT employees made over $100,000, with the highest salary paid in 2008-2009 being $228,705. The average UFT salary was $51,215, however, since many members work part-time, the numbers may be somewhat distorted.

As always, I welcome your feedback and questions and encourage any UFT members to share their understanding of the UFT’s finances in the comments.

*I arrived at the $31/teacher figure by using numbers provided to me by the DOE and contained within the UFT filing: According to the UFT’s filing, the union spent $2,404,820 on political activities during the 2009 fiscal year. Documents provided to me by the DOE stated that the active teaching force as of January 2009 was 78,728 teachers.


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