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Education Reporter

California Teachers Union Diverts $2M in Dues to PAC
The California Teachers Association (CTA) is anxious to see Jerry Brown elected governor and Tom Torlakson elected state superintendent of public instruction in November 2010. Jerry Brown supports Proposition 98, the state's minimum school funding law, as "a floor and not a ceiling." In contrast, his opponent Meg Whitman wants to immediately cut $7 billion from California's education budget and supports reining in teacher retirement benefits. Tom Torlakson is a former CTA member, and no doubt endeared himself to the union by promising to bring California back into the top five states for education spending.

The stakes are high enough this election cycle that the CTA decided the usual PAC allocation of member dues used to support and defeat specific candidates would not get the job done. So, the union's board of directors voted to increase the PAC allocation from $18 to $26 per member for one year — and they didn't need to ask permission from anyone. This tactic will generate an additional $2 million or more for the union PAC fund. (Dues money can be spent on issue campaigns and ballot initiatives, but only PAC funds can go towards candidates.)

This sleight-of-hand would not be legal at the federal level, because dues must be collected separately from voluntary PAC contributions. However, in California and some other states, unions are permitted to collect PAC contributions along with dues in one lump sum, primarily through payroll deduction. The contribution must still be voluntary, however. In the case of the CTA, teachers signal their consent by failing to fill in the opt-out bubble on their union enrollment form.

The relevant text reads: "A designated portion of CTA dues is normally allocated to . . . a bipartisan political fund through which CTA provides financial support . . . for candidates for local and state offices. Please fill in if you choose not to allocate a portion of your dues . . . and want all of your dues to remain in the General Fund." Note that members who fill in the opt-out bubble don't get their money back. That money simply remains in the general fund instead of being diverted to the PAC fund.

It is also significant that the membership form specifies only "a designated portion" of membership dues rather than any specific amount or formula. According to Mike Antonucci, author of the Education Intelligence Agency blog, "there is nothing to stop CTA from raising the PAC allocation to $200 per member with no additional authorization from the individual."

Antonucci also questions whether the PAC box on the membership form constitutes informed consent, because the CTA membership is "something you fill out once in your career." Some California teachers filled out that form 20 or 30 years ago and have not been asked their PAC contribution preference since. "Are they to be PAC contributors in perpetuity, at whatever level the union decides, without further authorization or even notification?" asked Antonucci. (www.eiaonline.com, 7-17-10)

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