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UTLA Denounces, Solicits Outside Contributions*

Alexander Russo | February 13, 2013

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On Tuesday, the Coalition for School Reform announced an eye-popping $1 million contribution from Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City — whom LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa described in a press release as “the most important voice in education reform today.”

UTLA denounced the Bloomberg contribution in a press release sent out Tuesday night, calling it “yet another example of outsiders trying to influence the outcome of the election.”

But Bloomberg’s donation wasn’t the first instance of someone outside LA contributing to the local races. Over the weekend, the LA Times reported that former NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein had contributed $25,000 to the Coalition’s $1.5 million war chest, in addition to a raft of local contributors. And it’s unlikely to be the last time, either.

Last week, UTLA revealed that it was seeking outside funds from state and national teachers unions in Sacramento and Washington, DC. The nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, says it isn’t going to get involved, but the California Teachers Association and the American Federation of Teachers have yet to announce a decision.
As the LA Weekly‘s Jill Stewart noted, “It’s about to get juicy, folks.”
Though UTLA may object, Bloomberg has been giving out funds to various causes across the country — for gun control advocacy, usually.
And it’s not like UTLA and its endorsed candidates aren’t seeking outside help from anywhere they can get it.
Last Friday, AFT president Randi Weingarten flew out to LA to do an appearance with UTLA-endorsed LAUSD School Board member Steve Zimmer, who is up for re-election in District 2 next month.
A few days before, a UTLA official told LA School Report the union was hoping to supplement the war chest of its independent expenditure committee with contributions from state and national teachers unions.
State Union Contributions
It is common, if not frequent, for union locals to ask for and receive funding from state and national branches, according to teachers union expert Mike Antonucci, who writes a blog called the Education Intelligence Agency.

State PACs transferring funds to local affiliate PACs or directly to School Board candidates is “perfectly legal and done all the time,” according to Antonucci.

Indeed, UTLA has a state-level PAC called UTLA COPE.

“Large transfers to UTLA’s COPE PAC won’t be for cookies and milk,” notes Antonucci.

Recently listed as the 6th most influential state teachers union in the country, the CTA met last week to discuss school board elections, but it’s decisions — which could include funding for UTLA — haven’t been announced.
We’ll let you know if and when they get back to us.
National Union Contributions
National unions give out money all the time, too.  Just this week, the EIA reported that the AFT gave $6 million to a variety of efforts and groups over the past year.
The national money is somewhat more limited, usually given for a state ballot initiative or legislative push, or for candidates for Federal office, not for a local board race, according to Antonucci.
The NEA PAC “can’t use that money for school board races, and of course they can’t use dues money to fund candidates at any level.”

The National Education Association, the largest of the two major teachers unions, isn’t going to weigh in, according to a new article in the Huffington Post:

“There aren’t any plans to be involved with the school board elections in LA,” says NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.  “We usually don’t get involved in school board races,”

A senior American Federation of Teachers official has acknowledged the request from UTLA, but has not yet responded with details about the union’s decision or the amount of funding that’s going to be shared.

*The original version of this post misidentified LA Weekly‘s Jill Stewart.

Previous posts:  UTLA-PACE Spends, Bloomberg Donates,  UTLA Focus: Defend Zimmer, Defeat Garcia


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