Education Committee Dems Awash in Union Cash

Dems questioning DeVos received nearly $740,000 from teachers unions

A logo sign outside of the headquarters of the National Education Association (NEA) labor union in Washington, D.C. / AP

The Senate Democrats expected to grill education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos have received nearly three quarters of a million dollars from teachers unions over the course of their careers.

The two largest teachers unions in the country have donated heavily to the eleven Democrats serving on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. The National Education Association has contributed more than $376,000 to the senators on the committee, while the American Federation of Teachers has given more than $361,000, according to a Washington Free Beacon analysis of federal election records.

The two unions represent about 4.5 million teachers and education employees across the country and are among the most influential labor groups in the country. Their willingness to shower politicians with campaign contributions and outside spending, as well as supply volunteers on the ground during election campaigns, has helped to boost their profile in Democratic circles.

The NEA spent more than $35 million to help Hillary Clinton and national Democrats in 2016, making it one of the top 10 biggest spenders in the country, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), an avowed socialist and Clinton's sole serious challenger in the 2016 primary, has been the biggest career recipient of NEA money on the committee, raising more than $100,000 from the union's PACs, employees, and members over the course of his career. Those donations have made NEA one of his 20 largest career contributors.

The AFT, a member of the AFL-CIO, was also a big spender in 2016, finishing among the top 40 contributors in the country, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It shelled out $15 million in 2016 with nearly all of those donations going to Democrats. One of the largest recipients of AFT cash has been Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the committee. She has received more than $63,000 from the union.

DeVos has been a longtime champion of charter schools and vouchers aimed at helping students in low income areas or failing schools attend private schools. Her support for education reform has attracted criticism from Senate Democrats, including some who had previously supported charter schools. Freshman Sen. Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.) attempted to increase spending on charter schools by during her tenure as governor, but said she was "very concerned" about DeVos' support for them after meeting with the nominee. Hassan raised about $21,000 from the NEA and AFT during her Senate campaign.

DeVos comes from a family of GOP activists whose political contributions have been criticized by liberal groups. Phillip Stutts, a former Department of Education appointee who has assisted the Trump transition team's preparation for DeVos confirmation hearing, said that the large political donations from the NEA and AFT demonstrate that they are desperate to retain influence on education policy.

"They're a dying dinosaur. They're trying to hold on to power, which is why their speeches are rarely about children—they're about protecting unions," he said.

The hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m.