Christie Teachers Union Foe Reaches Campaign Spending High

New Jersey’s largest teachers union, which ran a $6.6 million ad campaign last year criticizing Republican Governor Chris Christie, posted record spending on legislative races in the third quarter.

The campaign-financing arm of the New Jersey Education Association gave $566,000 to candidates and committees in the three months ended Sept. 30, according to state Election Law Enforcement Commission reports. That’s the largest third-quarter spending by the union in the past decade, and more than double that in the same period of 2007, the last year that all 120 seats in the Legislature were up for election.

The union, whose leaders Christie has called “political thugs,” withheld donations to Democrats who voted for the governor’s changes to public-employee benefits and gave more to some candidates than it has in the past, the filings show. It ended the quarter with $1.1 million of cash on hand, the most since at least 2001, with less than six weeks to Election Day.

“You have a very different set of circumstances going on in this election cycle,” Steve Baker, a spokesman for the union, said by telephone yesterday. “The stakes are higher for public education in this election. So we want to invest our resources in the people who’ve demonstrated a real commitment to public education.”

‘Desperate and Maniacal’

Christie, 49, New Jersey’s first Republican elected governor since 1997, targeted the 195,500-member NJEA and other public-employee unions because of what he called too-generous contracts negotiated by prior Democratic administrations. The teachers union collects as much as $100 million a year in dues.

“It demonstrates how desperate and maniacal that union leadership is in its attempts to defeat education reform at literally any cost,” Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, said today of the NJEA’s record spending in an e-mail. “It’s disturbing, really.”

Lifetime health benefits, low pension pay-ins and high salaries with regular raises led New Jersey to a $53.9 billion pension deficit and a $66.8 billion shortage of funding for retiree health care, he said.

His plans to rein in the benefits costs dovetailed with an education overhaul that calls for more charter schools, revised tenure rules and more teacher accountability for the 100,000 students he said are “trapped” in almost 200 chronically failing schools. The proposals helped put Christie on Republican fundraisers’ lists for a presidential run. He declined a 2012 bid this month, saying now was “not my time.”

Republican Fundraising

Christie’s September fundraising swing through western states generated more than $620,000 from non-New Jersey sources, out of almost $1.5 million raised by the state Republican Party last quarter, according to an election filing.

The New Jersey Republican State Committee this year collected $3.2 million through Sept. 30, while the Democratic State Committee raised $889,450, according to a summary of campaign-finance reports from the election commission.

State Republicans spent $1.44 million in the third quarter, according to the commission. The Democratic State Committee raised $512,196 in that period and spent $399,504.

The teachers union spent $6.9 million on lobbying last year, more than any other interest group in the state, and $6.6 million of that paid for ads that said the governor was out of step with New Jersey’s needs. Christie nonetheless won the benefits overhaul in June, with approval from the Democratic- controlled Assembly and Senate. He said the changes will save state and local governments $120 billion by 2041.

Democratic Control

Democrats lead the Senate, 24-16, and the Assembly, 47-33. Republicans would need to take five Democratic seats in the Senate and eight in the Assembly to wrest dominance in both houses. Christie has said he doesn’t expect Republicans to win control of the Legislature this election.

The union’s donation in the third quarter compares to $229,725 in the same period of 2007, election records show. Year to date, the union gave $707,600, up from $406,945 in 2007.

In August, the teachers union endorsed 69 candidates for legislative races, compared with 109 endorsements in 2001, according to a statement. This year’s list included two Republicans and left off any lawmaker who had voted for the Christie changes, including Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver of East Orange and Senate President Steve Sweeney of West Deptford, the Democrats who lead each house.

Collective Bargaining

“NJEA members make these endorsement decisions and they have made it clear that they will not endorse legislators who have impaired their right to collectively bargain and who have imposed thousands of dollars of additional costs on public employees,” Barbara Keshishian, president of the union, said in an Aug. 6 statement.

Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University, said the union’s strategy might backfire.

“They have long been a fund of Democrats, and by not getting behind some of the Democrats, the net impact may be to assist the campaigns of Christie allies,” she said yesterday by telephone.

Baker, the union spokesman, said the organization hasn’t decided how it will mete out the remaining $1.1 million in political cash.

“We have had a long history in New Jersey of bipartisan support for education,” Baker said. “Right now, we’re in a situation where we don’t feel like we have as much across-the- aisle support for education.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Elise Young in Trenton at eyoung30@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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