California Teachers Association Under Scrutiny for Political Spending

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Upon reviewing the financial disclosures of the California Teachers Association (CTA), The Daily Signal revealed that the organization, along with its national affiliate, the National Education Association, requires non-unionized teachers to pay for “human rights” costs that include conferences, projects, and awareness campaigns.

In California, public school teachers are required to join a union or pay fees as a condition of their employment. A columnist writing for the conservative outlet Breitbart notes that these contributions must be used for non-political functions. Often, unions will use their finances to support their preferred political candidates and advance their own political agenda. The dues collected from non-unionized teachers, however, are barred from being used to fund these activities.

Conservative activists are alleging that the revelations emerging from the Teachers Association’s financial disclosures prove that the union is using non-unionized teachers’ money to support its political activity. For example, non-unionized and unionized teachers were charged to fund a $49,739 “Equity Human Rights Conference” and $17,108 for an “LGBT Conference.” These activities are accused of advancing the liberal viewpoint of their union sponsors, not necessarily of the non-unionized members, whose money was used to pay for the conferences.

“Union bosses are notorious for bankrolling political causes that much of their membership does not support,” said Richard Berman, the Center for Union Facts Executive Director. “Big Labor sent nearly $420 million to Democrats and left-wing causes from 2012 to 2014, even though 40 percent of union members vote Republican in any given election cycle.”

The Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that unions can require mandatory payments as long as their members can opt-out of funding political activities. Critics of the union argue that the Teachers Association did not classify its spending as political, therefore not allowing its members to opt-out of any political activity to which they may have objected.

By contrast, advocates of unions argue that these activities were strictly educational in their mission. Additionally, the law forbidding unions to use non-union members on political spending does not define what political spending is beyond lobbying, donations, and endorsements. Connor D. Wolf of The Daily Caller writes that legal analysts say that the law is not entirely black or white. Money used for conferences with political overtones might not be considered as political spending.

This incident is just the latest criticism of the California Teachers Association. A group of 10 California school teachers sued the Association over the dues requirement, saying that it violated their right to free speech. The case, Friedrichs v. California School Teachers Association, went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The Court, by a vote of 4-4, kept the law intact.

The decision followed the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, a longtime conservative who likely would have voted to overturn the law. His absence forced the split decision that spared the law. Justice Scalia’s post has not yet been filled by the United States Senate, although President Obama has nominated a potential successor.

The Daily Signal’s full report on the union’s financial disclosures is available online.