How Will Colo. Education Groups’ Political Giving Match Election Results?

Ed News Colorado posted an interesting piece by Todd Engdahl this morning on the political support of the five in-state education interest groups that endorse and contribute to candidates:

  • Colorado Education Association (CEA)
  • American Federation of Teachers Colorado (AFT)
  • Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE)
  • Democrats for Education Reform (DFER)
  • Stand for Children Colorado (Stand)

Unsurprisingly Engdahl reports:

Of the more than 130 contributions or endorsements by the five groups, 90 percent went to Democratics [sic]. Only CASE (seven of 32 total) and Stand for Children (five of 18) endorsed Republicans. (Stand also endorsed the legislature’s only independent, former Democratic Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison.)

The five groups cover a majority of the legislative races on the ballot – 47 of 65 House contests and 16 of 19 Senate races. (Because senators serve four-year terms, an additional 16 Senate seats aren’t up for election this year this year.)

But, individual group contributions and endorsements don’t necessarily follow simple patterns. Teachers unions like CEA and AFT-Colorado don’t give money just based on how candidates stand on specific bills or issues; they also have a longstanding pattern of of seeking to elect Democratic majorities.

The focus of the article is somewhat narrow. So I decided to add some context and clarification to get a sense of the relative scope of support:

  1. Besides directly endorsing and supporting candidates, the two unions — CEA and AFT — also give substantial amounts of money (currently over $650,000 this election cycle) to 527 and other political groups, such as Accountability for Colorado — as the Denver Post‘s Vincent Carroll noted, “an outfit dedicated to character assassination” that produced “the sleaziest piece of paid political advertising this year in Colorado.”
  2. Many CEA local unions have separate committees that also contribute directly to candidates, and sometimes to 527 groups, which multiplies the union’s political power. If all treated as separate entities, CEA would rank #1 among the education interest groups in 2010 partisan giving ($740,000), followed by AFT ($114,000). CEA locals in Denver, Jefferson County, Boulder, Pueblo, Fort Collins and Pueblo County would rank 3 through 8, respectively. (See below for a list of the Colorado state-level candidates who have received the most combined teachers union contributions.)
  3. In magnitude of financial support, there’s just no comparison. If you combine the reported campaign giving of DFER and Stand (CASE only endorses, does not make contributions), it would still only rank #8 behind many union offices in the total amount of contributions.
  4. Even so, all but $1,000 from the two non-union contributors was given to unsuccessful candidates in Democrat primaries to traditional, more labor-friendly rivals.
  5. While CEA and the two non-union groups stood strongly on opposite sides of the heated Senate Bill 191 debate, two candidates (both Democrats) have received contributions from both sides: Senator John Morse (SD 11) and former Rep. Cheri Jahn (SD 20).
  6. On December 16, 2009, CEA’s small donor committee made a $1,500 contribution to the Republicans’ Senate Majority Fund. That is the only pro-GOP contribution made by any Colorado education interest group — union or non-union — during the current election cycle. Putting their money where their mouth is, Colorado teachers unions have given 99.8 percent of their $1 million plus in partisan contributions to benefit Democrats. Add in the two education reform groups, and the share is closer to 99.9 percent.

Besides the obvious fact that the teachers unions have thrown around far more political weight than all other education interests combined during the current campaign season, what can we glean from these observations? Education funding and reform issues, whatever their stripe, carry even less weight in 2010 than in many other election years. Government spending, jobs and economic recovery cast a pall over everything. Education-related pleas won’t move many votes in their favored candidates’ direction.

In five weeks we’ll find out just how out of touch the unions and other education groups are from the general voting public when it comes to who is selected to fill the statewide and legislative offices. I’ll be keeping a scorecard come election night. But to answer the question raised in the title of the post: unless patterns change, not very well (the obvious exception being Hickenlooper.) .

As promised, here are a list of the top twelve Colorado candidates — all Democrats — who have received the most combined contributions from different teachers union committees (with the office being sought in parentheses):

  1. John Hickenlooper: $24,000 (Governor)
  2. *Carole Partin: $20,000 (House Dist 47)
  3. State Treasurer Cary Kennedy: $17,500 (Treasurer)
  4. Secretary of State Bernie Buescher: $13,000 (SOS)
  5. Laura Huerta: $11,550 (House Dist 30)
  6. Jeanne Nicholson: $11,000 (Senate Dist 16)
  7. Rep. Sara Gagliardi: $10,000 (House Dist 27)
  8. Angela Giron: $8,900 (Senate Dist 3)
  9. Rep. Dianne Primavera: $8,150 (House Dist 33)
  10. **Rep. Andy Kerr: $8,125 (House Dist 26)
  11. Rep. Max Tyler: $8,125 (House Dist 23)
  12. ***Rep. Judy Solano: $7,900 (House Dist 31)

* Partin is a local teachers union president from Pueblo.
** Kerr is a teachers union activist and school district employee from Jefferson County.
*** Solano is in line to be either the chair or ranking Democratic member of the House Education Committee in 2011-12.

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