Massachusetts Ballot Question 2: The Union Money, and More
On November 08, 2016, Massachusetts voters will be deciding whether or not to lift the cap on the number of charter schools in the state. The ballot measure, known as Question 2, would open the door for “up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions in existing charter schools each year.”
As of September 09, 2016, several ballot committees have filed funding reports with the Massachusetts Office of campaign and Political Finance (OCPF).
To date, there are five ballot committees associated with Question 2.
Four ballot committees are in support of raising the charter cap. As of September 09, 2016, together they have raised roughly $11 million (accounting for the fact that Yes on 2 turned around and gave its money to Campaign for Fair Access, and Expanding Educational Opportunities gave most of its money to Great Schools Massachusetts):
- Yes on 2: $710,000
- Campaign for Fair Access to Quality Public Schools: $2,292,183
- Great Schools Massachusetts: $8,678,358
- Expanding Educational Opportunities: $325,000
One committee opposes Question 2:
- Save Our Public Schools: $6,777,696
In sum, the five ballot committees have raised roughly $17.8 million on Massachusetts’ Question 2 as of September 09, 2016. (Note: I accounted for money sent from one committee to another. Had I not accounted for such overlap, the total would look like $18.8 million.)
Money Opposing Question 2
Save Our Public Schools, the lone committee opposing Question 2, has received 83 contributions. The largest contributors include the following (with some making multiple contributions):
- Massachusetts Teachers Association: $4,169,622
- American Federation of Teachers (Boston): $251,823
- National Education Association (Washington, DC): $1,900,000
- American Federation of Teachers (Washington, DC): $450,000
Also noteworthy in this era of the billionaire purchasing of elections:
- Largest out-of-state contribution from an individual: $50
- Most of the money funding Save Our Public Schools (62 percent, or $4,169,622 /$6,777,696) comes from a Massachusetts-based organization
Thus, there are no out-of-state billionaires providing substantial funds to Save Our Public Schools, nor is Save Our Public Schools primarily funded by any out-of-state organization.
Save Our Public Schools is primarily funded by an in-state teachers union, the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA).
According to MTA’s 2013 tax return, it raised $47,669,617 in revenue, $42 million of which was generated by membership dues. (An additional $1 million came from investments, and approximately $3.5 million came from services that NEA offers– i.e., legal, educational.)
None of MTA’s 2013 revenue came from out-of-state billionaire donors, or out-of-state nonprofits (lobbying or otherwise), or out-of-state business execs or hedge funders.
MTA has 110,000 members. At $42 million per year, that means each member pays approximately $382 per year in membership dues.**
So, if the corporate reform set wants to complain about the largest funder of Save Our Public Schools– MTA– it needs to complain about the 110,000 Massachusetts-based members of MTA who are each willing to pay on average $382 annually in order to exert their collective influence.
The largest individual contribution supporting Massachusetts Question 2 comes from two Arkansas billionaires, siblings Jim and Alice Walton. The two of them together paid $1,835,000.
In other words, Arkansas residents Jim and Alice Walton by themselves paid to Yes on 2/Campaign for Fair Access an amount equal to what 4,806 MTA members likely pay annually to belong to MTA.
(Note that the Waltons actively discourage their Walmart employees from unionizing. The only way for Walmart employees to exercise any influence over their employment is to do so collectively. Otherwise, the billionaire Waltons hold all of the power.)
Continuing with Question 2:
Consider as well that the largest individual out-of-state contribution to anti-Question 2, Save Our Public Schools was $50, paid by Pennsylvania attorney Chuck Pascal.
You read it right: $50.
Compare that to the largest individual out-of-state contribution to pro-Question 2, Committee for Fair Access was $1,125,000, paid by Arkansas resident and Walmart heir Jim Walton.
Jim Walton’s contribution alone accounts for over 10 percent of the total $11 million raised by all four pro-Question 2 ballot committees combined. Factor in sister Alice’s $710,000, and the two Walton siblings account for almost 17 percent of that entire $11 million and over 10 percent of the total $17.8 million spent by all five ballot committees (pro and con) together.
The fact that $17.8 million has already been spent on Question 2 is already obscene; the fact that over 10 percent of that money came from two people magnifies the obscenity.
The largest contribution from an out-of-state organization opposing Question 2 was Washington-DC-based NEA: $1,900,000. The second largest out-of-state contribution came from AFT: $450,000.
That’s a total of $2,350,000 from the two national teachers unions in opposition to Question 2– which happens to be 41 percent of the total to date ($2,350,000 / $5,750,000) that New York-based Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy has paid to date in support of Question 2.
And that’s not even accounting yet for in-state contributions from, say, Massachusetts bankers and hedge funders in support of Question 2. Thirty-three such individuals contributed a total of $437,410 to Campaign for Fair Equity– an amount equal to the average estimated annual dues of 1,145 MTA members.
Twenty-four of the above hedge funders/bankers identified as employees of Fidelity Investments residing in MA. These 24 contributed a total of $56,360 to Campaign for Fair Equity– an amount equal to the average estimated annual dues of 148 MTA members.
Notice Who Is Missing
Interestingly, a notable missing presence from the funding of Question 2 ballot committees are the pro-Question 2, Massachusetts charter school teachers and administrators. Sure, there are pro-charter organizations pushing for Question 2, but there is no evidence that such organizations are actually supported (fiscally or otherwise) by charter school teachers and admin. And where are the pro-charter, Massachusetts parents in all of this? Is their default local representation the Massachusetts hedge funders and bankers? Was there some meeting of Massachusetts charter school teachers and admin in which the teachers/admin asked bankers and hedge funders, “Please step in for us, and if you can, beg the Waltons and other out-of-state charter entities to help?”
Those footing the pro-Question 2 bill are top-downers who have decided to do charters to Massachusetts.
However, democracy is not top down; Question 2 is a ballot measure, not an executive decision. Thus far, the funding behind Save Our Public Schools can be connected to more actual Massachusetts residents than that of all four of the pro-Question 2 ballot committees combined.
We will find out how that pans out on November 8th.
**From MA union member Christine Langhoff, in comments:
I’m not an MTA member, but as a Boston Teachers Union AFT member, only a small percentage of dues paid goes to political action. A member has to elect in to contribute to pay those dollars over the regular dues. Before I retired, the standard contribution was $2.00 per pay period. That would total $104 per member for an entire year, much lower than the $382 you have calculated, and it’s voluntary; dues cannot be used for political action.