Ohio teachers’ union dues boost big-government groups


By Jason Hart | Ohio Watchdog

The Ohio Education Association reported $1.5 million in political spending this year, including five-figure donations to the state’s top “progressive” nonprofits.

OEA gave $30,000 to Innovation Ohio, $25,000 to ProgressOhio and $20,000 to Policy Matters Ohio during the union’s fiscal year ending Aug. 31.

IO and Policy Matters are union think tanks whose research invariably concludes Ohio needs bigger government. ProgressOhio is the state affiliate of national leftist advocacy group ProgressNow.

As would be expected, all three union-funded nonprofits are fierce critics of paycheck protection, which ends the use of taxpayer resources for collecting union dues, and right-to-work, which lets workers choose whether to pay union bosses.

IO was founded by Janetta King, chief of staff to Democrat former governor Ted Strickland, within months of Strickland’s failed 2010 re-election bid. King, who still chairs the IO board of directors, now works with Strickland at union ally Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Given the dedication of IO, ProgressOhio and Policy Matters to fighting “income inequality,” Ohio Watchdog contacted each organization for comment on the $103,421 average pay of OEA staff and officers. Based on Ohio Department of Education data, the average Ohio teacher was paid $55,916 during the 2013-14 school year.

“My concern is the large number of Ohioans who work full time and still can’t earn a living wage,” ProgressOhio interim director Sandy Theis replied in an email. “I find it astonishing that many of the same lawmakers who refuse to raise the minimum wage want to give themselves a pay hike.”

IO and Policy Matters provided no comment. As Ohio Watchdog has reported, average OEA staff and officer pay continues to increase while the union sheds members and hikes teachers’ dues.

Other OEA political expenditures reported to the U.S. Department of Labor for the union’s 2014 fiscal year included $25,000 to Support Ohio Schools, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit run by OEA president Becky Higgins and devoted to passing local tax hikes.

OEA contributed $25,000 to the Cincinnati for Pension Responsibility campaign against public pension reform, $10,000 to union coalition One Ohio Now and $6,000 to faux-libertarian Ohio Democratic Party group Ohioans for Liberty.

Because Ohio is not a right-to-work state, teachers in unionized school districts can be forced to pay OEA agency fees — also referred to as “fair share” fees — as a condition of employment. OEA is prohibited from using agency fees for politics, but recently settled a class-action suit with teachers who accused the union of doing exactly that.

Donations to IO, ProgressOhio and Policy Matters paled in comparison to the $603,583 in dues OEA transferred to its political contributing entity, one of the teachers union’s three state-level political action committees.

Union PCE donations reported to the Department of Labor were in addition to spending by OEA’s “Fund for Children and Public Education” PAC. The OEA Fund for Children and Public Education spent more than $400,000 in the months leading up to last month’s election.

In addition to funneling money to PACs the union uses to make direct campaign contributions, OEA gave $317,000 to union super PAC Ohioans United and $252,906 to union super PAC Moving Ohio Forward.

OEA also paid Battleground Research, a business that “supports the progressive movement by providing the most up-to-date political research available,” $92,000 this year.

The teachers union did not respond to a request for comment on its process for determining political contributions and disclosing those contributions to members.