Montclair Mayor/NJEA President Sean Spiller is not shy about pursuing his own political ambitions and he’s willing to appropriate millions of dollars of teachers’ dues to do so. Spiller is a walking conflict of interest, who is always and everywhere looking out for Sean Spiller. Good for Spiller; not so good for New Jersey teachers.
Spiller’s Boundless Personal Political Ambition. Spiller has long been thought to harbor ambitions for higher office, including a potential gubernatorial run in 2025, and his recent formation of a new dark-money Super PAC called “Protecting Our Democracy” appears to confirm it. The group’s name sure sounds like a poll-tested, Democratic Party campaign slogan, and its link to powerful New Jersey Democrat Marcia Marley (president of progressive advocacy group BlueWaveNJ and board chair of progressive think-tank New Jersey Policy Perspective) brings Spiller squarely into the ambit of statewide New Jersey Democratic politics. The Super PAC’s first ad features Spiller looking very much like a Democratic political candidate addressing such broad issues as the January 6th riot, abortion and voting rights. That’s a long way from the quotidian concerns of a typical town mayor. Clearly, Spiller’s political ambitions go well beyond Montclair.
Funded with Millions from the NJEA. As news reports make clear, the Super PAC’s “founding donor is the NJEA” and it is intended to be a large-scale, modern political operation, including:
- “The multi-pronged campaign will include a substantial seven-figure omni-channel media buy;”
- “supporting pro-democracy policies and candidates,” and
- “building out an advanced data-driven organizing effort.”
Sure sounds like a statewide political campaign for Sean Spiller, whose NJEA presidential term is up in 2023, which puts a 2025 gubernatorial run in play.
All Paid For (Again) by New Jersey Teachers. But what is particularly galling is Spiller’s brazen appropriation of teachers’ highest-in-the-nation dues for his own political ambitions. A “seven-figure” media buy means millions of dollars, and that is only the current plans and says nothing of the future. Recall that the NJEA and its allies backed Spiller with $243,000 in his 2020 mayoral run, of which $156,000 came from Garden State Forward, the NJEA’s own Super PAC. Garden State Forward is funded by regular teachers’ dues, and it is almost certainly the NJEA vehicle funding Spiller’s new Super PAC (Might some reporter ask the NJEA?). So it is almost certain that New Jersey teachers will be funding Spiller’s political ambitions as a statewide Democratic candidate. But the teachers will have no say in the matter — even if they are not Democrats or progressives or do not want to fund Spiller’s personal political campaigns — because these issues will be decided by NJEA leadership, including President Spiller.
Spiller Is a Walking Conflict of Interest. Spiller’s political career has been marked by his multiple conflicts of interest, although that never deters his personal political ambitions. As a Montclair councilman, Spiller was removed from the Board of School Estimates (which approves school budgets) by a Superior Court judge because of his blatant conflict of interest as an NJEA officer.
But that didn’t stop Spiller. Spiller then ran for mayor, where his conflict of interest was even greater because at the time the mayor appointed the school board. That didn’t bother Spiller either but it did bother Montclair citizens and Spiller won by less than 2% despite outspending his opponent 30-to-1 (thanks to the NJEA). Montclair citizens then showed their displeasure at Mayor Spiller’s conflict of interest by stripping him of his appointment power.
Now, with the creation of Spiller’s NJEA-funded Super PAC, Spiller’s personal political ambitions have come directly into conflict with the interests of the teachers that his union represents. As NJEA president, Spiller has a fiduciary duty to represent the interests of teachers, but is funding Spiller’s Super PAC in the interest of teachers? Is furthering Spiller’s personal political ambitions a proper use of their dues? What other decisions will President Spiller make when it comes to allocating NJEA money and resources for his own political purposes? The conflict of interest is once again blatant and manifest.
A Raw Deal for Teachers. Sunlight wonders what New Jersey teachers think about this appropriation of millions of their dues. The average teacher earns $70,000 a year — or $48,000 after income and property taxes — and sends $1,000 in dues to the NJEA, where leadership (including President Spiller) spends it as they choose. Teachers have no real choice or say in the matter. It’s a raw deal no matter how you look at it.
And a Real Threat to the State. And what about a Governor Spiller? As a longtime officer of the NJEA, who has been paid over $3 million by the NJEA, and who will benefit from millions in NJEA funding for his personal political career, would a Governor Spiller govern the state in the best interest of its citizens? Spiller clearly is unconcerned about the potential for such a massive conflict of interest, but New Jersey citizens shouldn’t be. Under a Governor Spiller, New Jersey would truly be run by and for special interests, not the people. Just ask the citizens of Montclair.
It’s time for New Jersey teachers and citizens to speak up.