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Mike Lilley of the Sunlight Policy Center of New Jersey thinks the state teachers union, NJEA, has formed a new dark money PAC intending to directly influence school board elections next month. Amidst the culture wars, school boards have become a lightning rod for debates about classroom instruction in anti-racism and gender identity, especially after the State Department of Education issued new Health and Physical Education implemented in September.
Thus, says Lilley in his new report, NJEA has sprung into action:
The NJEA wants New Jerseyans to think that the parents running for school board are “extremists” and “bad actors,” but they’re not. They are just parents who did not like what they saw when they got a closeup look at what their kids were being taught during remote learning. So, parents, beware! The NJEA is coming after you with TV ads, opposition research, union-friendly candidates trained and supported by the NJEA, and now with piles of dark money.
What is Lilley’s evidence of this new “dark money PAC,” i.e. a group where political spending is meant to influence the decision of voters without the need to disclose donors or the source of the money?
It’s an new a 501(c)(4) political action committee (PAC) called “The Education Truth Project,” which has yet to be approved by the Election Law Enforcement Commission. While ETP describes itself on its website as “Republican,” Lilley shows all its professed policies are Democratic:
ETP has recently retweeted Tweets for Vote4DemocratsThisNovember, Dems4Rights, Occupy Democrats and the Democratic Coalition. In addition, ETP’s Twitter page originally had a donation link run by the Democratic fundraising group ActBlue but recently changed to a different platform. ETP’s website makes clear its anti-Republican animus: ‘The 2021 election was a disaster for most of us because a vocal minority came out and voted. This “Red Wave” was not just organic and Education Truth Project was created to fight back in 2022.’
The PAC’s focus is clearly school board elections. From ETP’s website: “Our specific goal is to support local school board candidates and causes that share our values.”
Also clear: ETP has lots of cash on hand. It’s website is slick and, says Lilley, its “ELEC filing reveals that it will raise (and spend) $100,000 in the fall of 2022 and another $200,000 in 2023, with 90% of its funding to be raised in New Jersey. This constitutes a great deal of money for school board races, which are usually very low-budget affairs.”
Lilley also notes that NJEA has invested heavily in promoting its agenda for school districts, which he calls an “anti-parent campaign.” Union leaders have created the “Center for Honesty in Education (CHE),” which offers resources to assist local unions, “including a reporting tool for teachers to inform on parents speaking up at school board meetings. NJEA staff then monitors and investigates the parents who are reported. This is essentially NJEA opposition research against parents.” Also, this past summer, NJEA ran programs to train teachers to “become political activists and push for radical education policies at the school district level” and ran an ad campaign calling parents protesting the new sexual education standards “extremists.” (They had to take down the ad.)
In turn, ETP tweets, “Stop extremists from taking over our school board’s [sic]. Now there’s help on the way,” claims its primary focus is “combatting misinformation in Public School Board elections,” and appropriates the word “truth” to fight parents who want to control their child’s sexual education.
All of this circumstantial evidence points to the NJEA funding ETP. The NJEA is all in on maintaining the school board status quo because it has so much to lose if school boards are not controlled by union-friendly board members. Sunlight has recordings that reveal NJEA staff trying to alarm local associations by saying that everything will change if opposition parents get control: curriculum, oversight, collective bargaining, funding, work conditions and more. The NJEA sees it as an existential fight, and it is playing to win…Once again, Sunlight asks what New Jersey teachers would think of this. Would they approve of hundreds of thousands (or more) of their highest-in-the-nation dues being put to such purposes? Would they approve of the NJEA’s combative stance against local parents? Would they embrace their union thrusting teachers into local political battles? The answer is that they don’t even have a say. NJEA leadership has decided to go all-in and the teachers will be left to deal with the consequences.