The New Jersey Mis(education) Association has always blurred the distinction between its regular union activities and the political stuff. With the advent of “dark money,” the line is even less clear.
On Thursday, the Sunlight Policy Center of New Jersey dropped a new report which not only details what we know (which isn’t much, but also enough) about recent NJEA spending, but it also speculates that the union’s current leader – Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller – is leveraging members’ union dues to power his own personal electoral ambitions beyond his own municipality. The vehicle? Its Super PAC, Garden State Forward…
Unlike NJEA PAC, Garden State Forward is funded by teachers ’regular annual dues. By law, NJEA members must opt into NJEA PAC dues, but allocations to Garden State Forward are determined by NJEA leadership. Teachers have no say in the matter and are largely unaware that Garden State Forward even exists. Many believe that the NJEA’s political spending is limited to NJEA PAC and have no idea they are funding Garden State Forward. Just as NJEA leadership would want.
Since its founding in 2013 to 2020, Garden State Forward has become the NJEA’s main vehicle for political spending. As shown in Figure 1, Garden State Forward has spent $58.6 million to NJEA PAC’s $11.1 million. After the millions spent in support of Gov. Murphy’s re-election in 2021, that number is much higher now.
Spiller’s latest project is a dark money Super PAC called “Protecting Our Democracy” (or POD) which he chairs; because it’s a 501(c)(4), the relatively new group can spend ungodly amounts of money without disclosing its donors and, again, with teachers’ dues. The speculation is that it’s Spiller’s front for the next phase of his political career.
“Even if New Jersey teachers had a choice about supporting Spiller’s personal political career, which they don’t, would the controversy-plagued Spiller be the kind of candidate they would support?” Sunlight continued. “Currently embroiled in multiple legal difficulties in Montclair, Spiller may be looking for greener pastures to pursue his political ambitions. Once again, New Jersey teachers are being forced to pay for it.”
Click here to read the full report.