Kudos to Politico‘s Carly Sitrin for her excellent piece (unfortunately behind a paywall) on the NJEA’s sponsoring NJ PBS’s 2021 gubernatorial debate, despite the fact that the NJEA endorsed one of the debate participants, Gov. Murphy, and committed at least $15.5 million to Murphy’s re-election. As Sitrin notes, New Jersey’s elections watchdog, the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) “explicitly bans” debate sponsors from endorsing candidates. Moreover, in documents filed with ELEC, the NJEA “was not reported as a sponsor or a source of financial assistance” for the debate, which it clearly was.
NJEA spokesperson Steve Baker claims that it was funding NJ Spotlight News (a part of NJ PBS), not the debate. And yet the NJEA’s logo appeared at the end of the debate with the narration “Funding for the NJ PBS 2021 gubernatorial debate is provided in part by the New Jersey Education Association …” Sure looks like the NJEA was a debate sponsor, Mr. Baker.
The debate controversy also shed more light on the NJEA’s substantial and longstanding relationship with NJ Spotlight News and NJ PBS. Baker makes clear that the NJEA has been a longtime, “year-round sponsor of NJ Spotlight News.” The NJ PBS spokesperson added that in addition to funding the debate broadcast, the NJEA also funds “NJ Spotlight News with Briana Vannozzi,” “Chat Box with David Cruz,” and “other programs on NJ PBS.”
In addition, Sunlight has unearthed these ties between the NJEA and NJ Spotlight, NJ PBS, NJTV (the precursor to NJ PBS) and WNET (the overall parent organization):
- From 2009 to 2017, the NJEA donated $175,000 to NJ Spotlight and its parent companies WNET and Public Media NJ (which operated NJTV).
- For 25 years, the NJEA broadcasted a weekly TV show on NJTV (and its predecessor, New Jersey Network) entitled “Classroom Closeup NJ.” From 2003 to 2019, the NJEA spent over $10 million producing Classroom Closeup NJ, and surely some – and perhaps a great deal – of this money went to NJTV.
- NJEA President Sean Spiller is on the Community Advisory Board of NJ PBS.
- WNET partnered with “the New Jersey Education Association to create original instructional programming that we broadcast over the air and streamed online.”
All of which begs the question: exactly how much money does the NJEA provide NJ Spotlight and NJ PBS every year?
New Jersey desperately needs an independent media that will report the facts and keep the public informed. Sunlight has expressed concern in the past about the NJEA’s financial support of NJ Spotlight and whether there has been some co-optation of NJ Spotlight as a result. Sunlight was on the receiving end of some disparate treatment by NJ Spotlight for Sunlight’s research versus that of NJEA-funded New Jersey Policy Perspective. We hope that the deep and longstanding relationship with the NJEA had nothing to do with it.