Some of the most consistent feedback Sunlight has received in its campaign to inform teachers of their 1st Amendment rights revolves around the fact that most teachers have no idea that the NJEA’s Super PAC, Garden State Forward, even exists. Much less do they know that their regular dues are paying for Garden State Forward. Most teachers believe that the NJEA’s political spending is limited to its traditional PAC, NJEA PAC, which is funded by a separate, opted-into dues stream.
Here are the numbers: from its founding in 2013 to 2022, Garden State Forward has spent over $64 million. All of it is political spending. All of it is paid for by teachers’ regular dues. By comparison, we estimate NJEA PAC spending was $12 million. It’s quite clear that Garden State Forward is the NJEA’s preferred political spending vehicle. Indeed, it is Garden State Forward that is funding NJEA President Sean Spiller’s Super PAC “Protecting Our Democracy,” widely seen as a platform for his personal political career.
Unsurprisingly, Garden State Forward’s political spending is not transparent to teachers — no doubt by design. In the NJEA’s monthly magazine for members, NJEA Review, the NJEA provides an annual budget summary. This is where teachers can see what the NJEA is spending their dues on. Since its inception, there has never been an expenditure line item for “Garden State Forward.” Rather, the NJEA’s spending on Garden State Forward is listed as “Organizational Projects.” A teacher would never know that this represents Garden State Forward spending. The only reason Sunlight knows is that the numbers for Organizational Projects matches exactly the numbers for Garden State Forward in the NJEA IRS Form 990s. The vast majority of teachers will never see a NJEA IRS Form 990.
We also did a search for “Garden State Forward” on the NJEA’s website and got this result: “Sorry, but nothing matched your search terms …” There’s a pattern developing here.
As a result, most teachers do not know Garden State Forward exists, let alone that $64 million of there highest-in-the-nation dues have gone to political spending. No doubt by design. Another example of NJEA leadership keeping teachers in the dark about how their dues are spent.