How To Buy A Congressional Caucus
Surprise! Lawmakers In New Education Caucus Got Big Bucks From AFT & NEA
American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten and National Education Association (NEA) president Lily Eskelsen García joined 11 members of Congress for a press conference on Tuesday to announce the formation of a new caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives focused on public education issues.
According to Rebecca Klein at the Huffington Post, the less-than-creatively named Public Education Caucus has been in the works for more than a year, but the decision to officially launch the group this week was precipitated by the upcoming Senate confirmation hearings for Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education.
DeVos, a billionaire philanthropist and major GOP donor from Michigan, is a controversial choice for the nation’s top education post. Over the past two decades, she has been an outspoken advocate of school choice, although her stances on several policy issues — such as vouchers and charter accountability — have left even education reform supporters (myself included) wary of her candidacy. As a result, AFT & NEA have been waging an increasingly aggressive campaign opposing her confirmation, of which the newly-announced Public Education Caucus is clearly a part. Speakers at Tuesday’s press conference spent most of their time questioning DeVos’ qualifications for Secretary of Education.
But Here’s Something You May Have Missed…
Although several news outlets covered the group’s kickoff, they all left out an interesting fact: Ten of the eleven lawmakers in the Public Education Caucus received sizable campaign contributions — ranging from $6,500 to $25,000 — from AFT and NEA during the 2016 election cycle.
The one caucus member who didn’t get donations from the unions, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), is one of the wealthiest members of Congress (worth an estimated $400 million) and bankrolls his own campaigns.
None of this is to say that the concerns raised by the caucus about DeVos are unwarranted (the dismal performance of charters in Detroit alone is reason to be worried), but it’s a good reminder of the reach of NEA and AFT. The donations made to the ten members of the Public Education Caucus represent a small fraction of the more than $40 million in contributions the two unions made during the last election cycle.
Needless to say, money like that can buy a lot of influence.