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Abusing Public Resources, Trampling Teachers' Rights

By Benjamin DeGrow

Colorado teachers’ union officials have funded the campaigns of their endorsed political candidates at the expense of some unsuspecting teachers and supported the campaigns using taxpayer-funded resources.

Witness the revelations coming forward about the most recent election.

On Feb. 21, two Poudre School District parents filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s office against the local teachers’ union, charging a series of misdeeds. The evidence, they say, is substantial.

Wayne Rutt and Paul Marrick complain that the Poudre Education Association (PEA) did not disclose contributions made to Bob Bacon’s senatorial campaign, including coordination of electioneering activities and compensating “volunteers.”

The Independence Institute’s analysis of filings with the Secretary of State’s office has uncovered $22,200 in direct contributions from teachers’ union committees to Bacon during the 2004 election cycle, including the $4,000 legal limit from PEA’s small donor committee.

Yet the most striking charge highlights the union’s use of school district resources to distribute political messages. Rutt and Marrick cited several e-mails advocating Bacon’s election sent from PEA President Mary Lynn Jones through the district e-mail system, some even after the local board of education instructed her to cease.

Similar evidence in Aurora shows public resources being used to promote a contest sponsored by the Colorado Education Association (CEA). CEA’s “Commit 4 in ’04” competition promised to give 25 awards of $100 each to members who submitted reports of volunteer work “for [CEA] political activities, a CEA-recommended candidate campaign, or a local or state ballot issue campaign [CEA] officially supports or opposes.”

The Aurora Education Association (AEA) used the school district’s e-mail system to publicize the contest under the heading “Chance to win $100” in a September message to teachers. An earlier e-mail to teachers also solicited help for a literature drop at the AEA office on behalf of Senate candidate Suzanne Williams, the beneficiary of $17,800 in reported teachers’ union contributions during the 2004 election cycle.

After being successfully elected to the Senate, both Bacon and Williams received appointments to the Education Committee. The committee’s new chair, Sue Windels of Arvada, received $18,200 in teachers’ union campaign contributions for the last election.

On Feb. 16, Education Committee members Bacon, Williams and Windels all voted to reject a measure designed to protect the rights of teachers from involuntarily supporting partisan political campaigns. The defeated Senate Bill 05-175 would have required a teacher to give annual written authorization before any deduction could be taken from her paycheck for political purposes.

One-time authorizations are currently the rule for CEA membership payroll deductions, and the political contribution is a mandatory part of that deduction. SB175 would have required teachers to actively authorize or refuse the political deduction on a yearly basis.

Some CEA members are well aware of the $24 annual “Every Member Option” (EMO) deduction that funds CEA’s political committees and of the Dec. 15 deadline to request a refund. But the Independence Institute has also heard from others who are not.

A CEA lobbyist testified before the Senate Education Committee that the bill would take away the rights of teachers to decide how their money should be spent. He also asserted that contributions to CEA’s political activities were “voluntary” because a member can ask for a refund of money automatically taken from her paycheck. How absurd!

But having received a combined $55,200 in reported CEA contributions (each also received $1,000 from the American Federation of Teachers-Colorado) during the recent election season, the committee’s Democrats chose to support the union’s agenda rather than the interests of individual teachers.

Enacting SB175 would have threatened to reduce the union’s revenue stream because teachers would have had to annually authorize the political deduction. To vote favorably on the bill could have decreased a union-backed senator’s future campaign contributions.

Senate Rule 17c requires any legislator with “a personal or private interest in any question or bill pending” to disclose that interest and abstain from that vote. The letter of the rule does not apply to committee members’ votes on SB175, but the spirit of the rule does.

Teachers are capable of choosing which candidates they want to financially support. However, some Colorado legislators who receive campaign contributions indirectly from teachers’ paycheck deductions don’t want to give them that right.

Too many taxpayers are unaware of the union’s political agenda and its appropriation of public resources to spread its message. And union officials are happy to keep it that way.