Education, Elections, Jefferson County, National, Politics, Sherrie Peif, Steamboat Springs, Thompson

Unions, outside money place big bets on school board races statewide

File photo - Todd Shepherd
File photo – Todd Shepherd

It appears those who predicted big money would define this off-year election for school board races across the state were right. Many of this year’s school board elections have indeed seen large influxes of outside money.

However, with the possible exception of Jefferson County, that big money is primarily flowing into the union-friendly candidates and the issue committees supporting those candidates, not the other way around as many predicted.

In fact, the latest reports from Thompson School District in northern Colorado, the state’s 17th largest school district in 2014, show that pro-union and anti-reform organizations and candidates appear to be outspending most districts statewide.

An Independent Expenditure Committee in the Thompson School District—which encompasses Loveland, Estes Park, Berthoud, and a small part of Fort Collins—has reported $220,000 in total contributions and nearly $196,000 in expenditures.

Of that, $93,000 has come from the Put Thompson Students First (PTSF) 527 political organization, Put Thompson Students First Action. According to the Secretary of State’s office, 527 groups are “typically federal organizations created to influence or attempt to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of candidates.”

In a November 2 filing, Put Thompson Students First Action lists only two contributors: America Votes and Citizens for Integrity.

America Votes, which contributed $75,000 to PTSF Action, is a very well-known national advocacy organization that calls itself the “coordination hub of the Progressive community.” The organization’s list of partners includes the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, Planned Parenthood Action, and a variety of other left-leaning organizations.

The group spent nearly $1 million to support the union-led effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker after he pushed for labor policy reform in that state. According to the Colorado Secretary of State, the organization has spent millions on various Colorado elections since October 2006.

Citizens for Integrity also donated $20,000 to PTSF Action. According to the Colorado Secretary of State, the group has contributed hundreds of thousands to various Colorado elections since 2010. It has given heavily in the past to groups like Mainstream Colorado, which are primarily focused on electing Democrats.

Mainstream Colorado was involved in efforts to defend Colorado Senators John Morse and Angela Giron from recall over anti-gun legislation. Its listed purpose on the Colorado Secretary of State’s website is “to educate and inform voters regarding candidates for the state legislature, primarily supporting Democrats and opposing Republicans.”

Colorado Education Association
File photo: Todd Shepherd

Reports filed late last night by the PTSF Independent Expenditure Committee do show a $30,000 contribution from the Colorado Fund for Children and Public Education – a political arm of the Colorado Education Association (CEA).

The Thompson Education Association directly donated another $22,000 to PTSF’s Independent Expenditure Committee.

And Colorado Fair Share—which, according to its website, is invested in efforts to “Get big money out of politics”—kicked in one-third of the total amount donated to the committee with a $75,000 contribution.

Thompson has been in the midst of a tug-of-war for control between the reform majority and the teachers union, which recently lost a major battle in the Colorado Court of Appeals over an injunction forcing the district to abide by the terms of an expired bargaining agreement from the 2014-15 school year despite multiple votes against proposed tentative agreements based on that document.

The doublespeak in Loveland, however, isn’t exclusive to monetary donations.

Reform opponents have complained about partisan politics playing a role in decision-making. However, in its support of the non-reform candidates, PTSF has spent more than $90,000 on mailing and other services supporting their candidates with Mission Control, a PR firm whose client list is full of high-profile Democrats. Additionally, the firm openly describes itself as a “Democratic mail firm.”

And despite complaints from reform opponents about reformers owning “big ticket items like Robo calls,” (example 1, example 2), PTSF spent $31,500 on polling with Myers Research, which also touts its success at electing Democrats on its main page. Myers also has done work with the National Education Association , along with a variety of other Democratic efforts.

Thompson is not alone in the double speak by union supporters. Statewide, reporting shows that unions far outpace their opponents in direct contributions to school board candidates.

So far, nearly $400,000 has gone to candidates in just 19 districts. (These figures do not include all sources. They are direct union donations only. They are not also all-inclusive, as some reports were not available at press time and additional reports will come due later. This only represents a snapshot of contributions):

  • Adams 12: $7,500
  • Aurora: $9,000
  • Boulder: $5,450
  • Canon City: $2,000
  • Cherry Creek: $6,500
  • Colorado Springs 11: $17,957
  • Denver: $159,700
  • Eagle: $1,750
  • Jeffco: $97,000
  • Keenesburg: $2,000
  • Lewis-Palmer 38: $1,000
  • Littleton: $2,500
  • Mesa: $14,090
  • Poudre: $13,000
  • Pueblo 60: 14,000
  • South Conejos: $1,333
  • Steamboat Springs: $7,000
  • Thompson: $2,500
  • Trinidad: $2,500

The fact that large amounts of union money is trying to influence voters has been the topic of media across the state.

In Mesa, where union candidates are running for seats in districts they don’t reside, they are also getting union money to fight for those seats.

Or in Colorado Springs 11, where union-backed candidates are at the top of the contributions list.

The same can be said in Steamboat, where union friendly candidates have received more than 75 percent of their money from the union.

The final reports are due in January from all the issue committees, PACs, and other political entities.

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