The president of a major teachers’ union was forced to defend the union’s support for a shadowy left-wing dark money group on Tuesday after a pair of public school principals criticized her for that support.
American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten confirmed that her union is supporting the Democracy Alliance to the tune of $230,000 annually, but denied that its work in secretly helping to finance major left-wing groups amounts to "dark money" advocacy.
She disputed Washington Free Beacon reporting on her compensation, which labor watchdog Union Facts pegged at just over $550,000. Weingarten did not respond to inquiries about figures provided by the union itself to the Department of Labor, which show that she earned $543,150 in total compensation during fiscal year 2013.
Weingarten was one of a number of labor union officials to sign on as Democracy Alliance "partners" over the past two years. Partners pay $30,000 in annual dues and are required to contribute at least $200,000 to DA’s portfolio of supported groups.
DA-backed groups plan to spend $374 million during the 2014 election cycle in an effort to elect Democratic candidates and advance liberal policy goals.
The Alliance has been criticized for the opacity of its operations. It does not actually donate money to supported groups. Rather, it connects those groups with wealthy individual and institutional donors. Many of those groups do not disclose their donors, but even among those that do, DA’s involvement remains secret.
Weingarten denied that DA is a "dark money" group in a series of tweets on Tuesday after a pair of public school principals questioned AFT’s involvement with the group.
"Wldn't call civic engagement,GOTV efforts dark $," she said in a tweet. "DA pools $ to fight for progressive causes … Spending it to ensure reg folks had access to democracy…and a fairer economy."
The principals who challenged AFT’s involvement with the Alliance say they still have misgivings about its support.
"Rank and file members might be concerned," wrote Tim Farley, a principal at a New York State elementary and middle school. In an email, he explained that rank and file teachers "may not be in agreement with some of the issues that are supported by this group."
Farley specifically cited Common Core, controversial testing standards that the Department of Education is pushing to adopt nationwide.
Farley is a founding member of New York State Allies for Public Education, an advocacy group that opposes the imposition of Common Core standards. Farley spoke to the Free Beacon as a private citizen not as a representative of NYSAPE.
"The polls of teachers' perception of Common Core show that a majority do not support CC and especially its implementation," Farley wrote. "Now, the rank and file are finding out that [Weingarten] and her assistant apparently are members of this DA at $30,000 each, plus another $200,000 to support other DA causes."
Peter Osroff, a middle school principal in Garden City, N.Y., suggested Weingarten was being hypocritical. When she insisted that "fighting the Koch Bros" is a legitimate use of AFT dues, he replied, "You mean the Koch Brothers who donate $ BILLIONS to charities?"
Weingarten should be up front about AFT’s involvement in opaque political groups, Farley said.
"In my opinion, the biggest issue is the lack of transparency," he said. "If AFT is proud to be a part of this DA group, then why not publicize it and inform its members of all the wonderful benefits?"