Common Cause/NY Report Details Political Spending To Influence Education Policy in New York State

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  • Susan Lerner
Education Privatizer Groups’ Political Spending Eclipses Education Union Spending for the First Time in 2014, Pays Off in Tax Credit Proposals

NEW YORK, NY (06/15/2015)—Education unions and public school allies have been large political spenders in New York for decades, but during the ten year period from 2005 to 2014, their political dollars have been matched and recently over-taken by wealthy individuals and an interlocking set of advocacy and policy organizations pushing for market-based educational approaches.

New Yorkers find themselves trapped in an ongoing tug-of-war over education funding and policy, with total aggregate union spending during the 10 year period topping $205.4 million compared to $93.3 million by pro-privatizers. But the source of the funding and how it is spent is very different between the two sides. 

Common Cause/NY’s report, “Polishing the Apple: Examining Political Spending in New York to Influence Education Policy,” analyzes efforts to influence the debates around education policy and funding.  Union money is contributed in smaller amounts by tens of thousands of union members, while privatizer money comes in large amounts from fewer than an estimated 400 individuals and organizations. Privatizers give most of their money directly to political parties and candidates, while unions give relatively little directly to candidates, spending big on organizing their members and reaching voters instead.

The manner in which the two sides raise and spend the extraordinary amounts of money they flood our political system with to try and influence education policy is strikingly different,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY. “The large direct campaign contributions which pro-privatizing interests made to the Republic Senate Housekeeping Account and to the Cuomo-Hochul 2014 campaign appear to have paid off in bills that favor the wealthy much more dramatically than similar bills in other states. Our research highlights the need to reform New York’s campaign finance system, lobbying laws and legislative process. New Yorkers do not want education policy – or any important policy issue – held hostage to the demands of wealthy and special interests.”

Key Findings

Education privatization interests’ aggregate political spending, including campaign contributions, independent expenditures, and lobbying, from 2005 through 2014 totaled $93.3 million.

The aggregate political spending by education unions, including campaign contributions, independent expenditures, and lobbying, from 2005 through 2014 totaled $205 million.

The two sides raise their money very differently. Pro-privatization campaign contributions totaled $46.1 million raised through 5,700 contributions from less than 400 wealthy individuals, Union campaign contributions totaling $87.6 million raised through at least 75,000 contributions to Union PACS from well over 18,000 individuals.

The two sides spend their campaign contributions very differently, with 73% of political contributions made by pro-privatizers going to candidates and parties, including party housekeeping accounts, while Only 9% of union contributions went directly to candidates and party committees.

The top three recipients of pro-privatization campaign contributions during the ten year period were The New York Senate Republican Housekeeping account ($5.04 million), Cuomo-Hochul 2014 ($3.06 million) and The Independence Party Housekeeping account ($1.2 million).

The pro-privatization bills introduced in New York are based on bills developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council as part of its national education agenda.

The top 2 recipients of contributions from privatizers (Senate Republicans and Gov. Cuomo) have introduced more extreme versions of education tax credits than those in other states, advantaging both wealthy contributors who would obtain tax credits and those who would obtain scholarship supported by the credits more extremely than in other states with education tax credit programs in place.


While Common Cause/NY takes no position on education policy, we strongly believe that the final decision should be based on objective analysis and not unduly shaped by the well-funded lobbying and publicity efforts, as well as political spending of any supporters of one position or another. Discussion of education policy and programs should take place out in the open, following public hearings with testimony from both experts and interested members of the public and an independent analysis of the true costs and potential risks and benefits of each proposed scheme.

Common Cause/NY supports a system of Fair Elections to reduce the influence of big dollar special interests in politics and restore accountability in government. Common Cause/NY is part of the coalition for Fair Elections in New York State. The campaign for Fair Elections is focused on four key goals:

  • Public Financing of Elections – establishing a voluntary system to empower small donors by matching their contributions with public money, similar to NYC’s successful system.
  • Lower Contribution Limits – bringing New York State’s sky-high contribution limits down to reasonable levels and eliminating limitless contributions to party accounts.
  • Broad and effective disclosure of political givers and lobbying entities, including Top Donor disclosure and addressing the “Russian doll” problem.
  • Amend the Lobbying Act to keep up with contemporary lobbying practices, including standardization of reporting.                                                                           

The full report is available here

Download the data file here

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