As Dropout Nation continues to peruse through the American Federation of Teachers’ 2012-2013 filing with the U.S Department of Labor, more information comes out about how the union uses the $321 million (including $117 million in proceeds from its line of credit) it garners through forced dues payments by teachers regardless of their desire for union representation. One of those spends: $10,080 to the Advance Group, the New York City-based political consultancy at the heart of a scandal involving the United Federation of Teachers, the AFT’s Big Apple local. As reported earlier this month by Chris Bragg of Crain‘s New York Business, the AFT unit paid $370,000 to Advance Group through a phony firm called Strategic Consultants in order to conceal the fact that the firm was doing work for both the union and individual political campaigns — including that of Bill Thompson, the longtime Big Apple politician who was backed by the AFT in his unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic mayoral nod — which would have raised questions about whether this was being done in violation of state and federal law. By the way: Advance is a recent beneficiary of the AFT New York local’s spending; it pulled down $99,292 from the AFT local in 2011-2012, according to the unit’s filing with the Department of Labor. It also shares space in New York City with the Black Institute, former ACORN boss Bertha Lewis’ outfit, which is also a beneficiary of AFT funding.
The revelations makes clear the lengths to which the AFT and its affiliates will go to cloak the union’s position as one of the biggest players in national, state, and local political campaigning; the fact that the union didn’t even succeed in getting its prime choice, Thompson, selected as the Democratic mayoral nominee points out how little benefit it is increasingly getting for its massive spending sprees. For rank-and-file members frustrated with current AFT New York City boss Michael Mulgrew (as well as with predecessor and current national AFT President Rhonda Weingarten) — especially Baby Boomers who are the union’s hardcore traditionalists and younger, more reform-minded teachers, the scandal is yet another reminder that the union often spends the money they pay into it without regard for their respective concerns. The fact that the AFT’s Big Apple affiliate is itself struggling with $72 million in pension shortfalls and unfunded retiree healthcare costs makes the shenanigans with Advance Group even less of a laughing matter.
Meanwhile the Advance Group isn’t the only consultancy on AFT’s clout-buying payroll. It paid $80,000 to New Partners Consulting, a Beltway-based outfit run by former Obama Administration honcho Robert Gibbs and P.J. McCann, a top fundraiser for the president’s successful election campaign five years ago as well as worked for rock star Bono’s ONE charity. Another $177,649 went to public relations guru Scott Widmeyer’s eponymous firm to promote the AFT’s Share My Lesson crowdsourcing initiative which features lessons tailored to implementing Common Core reading and math standards. The AFT also hired Indigo Strategies, an outfit run by Howard Dean acolyte Walter Ludwig with ties to such progressive outfits as Netroots Nation, to the tune of $85,951, and paid former National Education Association honcho Howell Medley”s firm $24,452 for work on various ballot initiatives. Another outfit working with progressive groups, former Democratic National Committee operative Joe Fuld’s Campaign Workshop, picked up $198,965 from the union in 2012-2013. Among the smaller players: University of Maryland Professor Fred Feinstein, who is best-known for his work on behalf of the Service Employees International Union, picked up $5,000 from the union in 2012-2013, an 80 percent drop from the $25,000 he received last fiscal year for his services.
At the same time, the AFT attempted to bolster its ties to the Democratic National Committee, where its influence (and that of the NEA) has been weakened by Centrist Democrat reformers who have the ear of the Obama Administration; it provided $200,000 to the National Democratic Redistricting Trust, which advocates for drawing lines that favor Democrat congressional candidates and incumbents. The union also gave $55,000 to Bill Press Partners for sponsorship of the former Crossfire star’s eponymous radio show.