Second of a two-part series
There probably aren't many Michigan teachers who are members of the National Education Association who have heard of America Votes. Or that money they pay in dues helps fund the left-leaning political organization.
Yet, the NEA is a major supporter of America Votes, which came under national scrutiny this week after a report by The Center for Public Integrity portrayed it as a "secret liberal group" that was financing liberal causes.
Michigan teachers who belong to the Michigan Education Association pay $180 a year to the NEA as part of their dues.
America Votes is just one of the many progressive causes supported by the NEA, a teachers union that at one time boasted about the numerous conservatives it had among its 3 million dues paying members.
John Stocks, executive director of the NEA, is on video extolling the virtues of America Votes.
The NEA gave America Votes $1.07 million in 2012-13, according to the "political activities and lobbying" category listed on the union's LM-2 report.
America Votes Spokeswoman Liz Accola said the organization was “in full compliance” with the law in regard to money it takes in and gives to other organizations.
America Votes is a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization, which allows it to publicly lobby but does not require it to disclose donors.
"America Votes was founded by seasoned political operatives with deep roots in Democratic Party politics," said Michael Beckel, who did the report for The Center for Public Integrity. "The primary goal of the nonprofit is to help left-leaning groups collaborate. Of course, not every member of the America Votes coalition sees eye-to-eye on every issue, but at the end of the day, they all generally agree to work together to advance liberal policies and candidates. And that coalition includes a number of labor unions, environmental groups and organizations that support abortion rights — constituencies that typically lean Democratic."
The NEA's media strategy team did not respond to a request for comment.
OpenSecrets.org lists the top political donors from 1989 to 2014 to political candidates, political parties and leadership political action committees. The NEA was third on the list behind ActBlue and AFSCME. The NEA donated $58.98 million to political candidates in the past 25 years and gave 56 percent of the money to Democrats. Four percent went to Republicans with the rest most likely going to outside spending groups not affiliated with political parties.
In 2012-13, the NEA spent about the same amount of money on "political activities and lobbying" ($44.7 million) as it did on "representational activities" ($44.2 million).
The NEA supported some liberal social causes that had little to do with education, according to its LM-2 report filed with the federal government.
For example, the NEA gave $20,000 to support same-sex marriage in Rhode Island and $300,000 to support same-sex marriage in Maryland in 2012-13. In 2011-12, the NEA gave $100,000 to Media Matters, a far left organization whose stated goal is to correct "conservative misinformation in the U.S. media."
That same year, the NEA gave $150,000 to the Ohio Democratic Party. Then, in 2012-13, the union gave $155,000 to Democracy Alliance. The Washington Free Beacon described the Democracy Alliance as "a secretive dark money group backed by George Soros and other liberal mega-donors" that supports left-wing groups.
Alexandra Freeze, senior director of communications and advocacy for the Association of American Educators, said teachers are looking for options that don't come with the political activism. The AAE is the largest non-union professional educators' organization in the nation.
"Teachers are demanding options for themselves that don't put them in the middle of a political debate," Freeze said. "Teachers don't realize they are being put in the middle as political pawns on these issues."
The NEA has promoted that it has many conservatives among its membership.
A 2005-06 NEA survey found that 45 percent of teachers under 30 classified themselves as conservative and 63 percent of teachers age 40 to 49 classified themselves as conservative.
But on its most recent federal filing, only one Republican group was listed as the recipient of NEA money. The union gave $25,000 to Republican Main Street Partnership in 2012-13. That group is a coalition of moderate Republicans who have been called the GOP's version of the Blue Dog Democrats, a group of Democrats who consider themselves to be more conservative than most of their colleagues in the party.