Thanks to InsiderNJ for publishing Sunlight’s op-ed. We respect InsiderNJ for publishing both NJEA President Spiller’s op-ed and our rebuttal. That’s fair, even-handed treatment.
NJEA President Sean Spiller wrote an op-ed for InsiderNJ entitled “Educators Involved in Politics? Absolutely!” Predictably, Spiller frames the issue as if the NJEA and educators are one and the same. But they’re not: the issue isn’t “educators” being involved in politics, it’s NJEA leadership being involved in politics, often without the knowledge of educators whose highest-in-the-nation dues pay for it.
First, we question whether the NJEA speaks for educators when it comes to making the culture wars a political priority. Under Spiller, the NJEA has taken the lead in advocating for policies that are opposed by the vast majority of New Jersey citizens and parents. At the local level, the NJEA has aligned itself against parents in many school districts and placed educators in the middle of contentious political fights. Most teachers want to teach, not play politics.
The broader reality is that very few educators know how much NJEA leadership spends on politics or where they direct the money because the NJEA keeps them in the dark. That’s why the Wayne Education Association – with NJEA lawyers — is asking the Public Employment Relations Commission to force the Wayne school district to block Sunlight’s emails informing educators how their regular dues are funding excessive and wasteful political spending.
The NJEA sure isn’t telling them. They have long hidden the existence of the NJEA’s Super PAC, Garden State Forward, and the fact that it is funded by educators’ regular dues. As a result, many educators mistakenly believe that the NJEA’s traditional PAC, NJEA PAC, is the extent of the NJEA’s political spending. NJEA PAC is funded by a separate dues stream that educators must opt into, and the NJEA leads them to believe that their regular dues are not funding political spending.
But that’s a false impression. Garden State Forward has become NJEA leadership’s main vehicle for political spending. According to IRS filings, from 2012-21, NJEA leadership devoted $65 million to Garden State Forward, compared to $10 million flowing to NJEA PAC. Garden State Forward has spent more than $10 million in a single year.
So few, if any, educators know that in 2017, via Garden State Forward, NJEA leadership wasted $5.4 million of their regular dues backing Trump-supporter Fran Grenier in a futile attempt to unseat then-Senate President Steve Sweeney. Or that millions of their dues are being funneled to Spiller’s own Super PAC in furtherance of his personal political career.
This is deliberate. The NJEA website is the model of transparency when it comes to NJEA PAC, but when we searched for “Garden State Forward,” we got this response: “Sorry, but nothing matched your search terms. Please try again with different keywords.” Likewise, in all the annual budgets presented to educators in the NJEA’s monthly magazine, NJEA Review, there has never been a line-item for Garden State Forward. NJEA leadership’s $65 million in funding for Garden State Forward is disguised as “Organizational Projects.”
The bottom line is that an educator would be unaware of Garden State Forward’s existence if she relied on the NJEA for her information. Can the NJEA’s political spending truly be deemed “Educators Involved in Politics”?
No, it’s the NJEA involved in politics. There’s a big difference.