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Unions spend big on GOP primaries 

Teachers unions, traditionally known for supporting Democratic candidates, have been quietly funneling significant amounts of money into Republican state legislative primaries over the past six years. Data from Open Secrets and Follow the Money reveal a notable increase in donations to GOP candidates since 2018, with some unions contributing up to $117,700 to individual candidates in contested primaries. 

While teachers unions remain the largest donors to Democratic campaigns at the federal level, their strategy at the state level has evolved. Affiliates of the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have shifted to supporting preferred candidates in Republican primaries, particularly in states where GOP-sponsored education legislation is prominent. 

This change in strategy is evident in donations from various state unions. For instance, the Pennsylvania State Teachers Association and the Ohio Education Association have contributed substantial sums to Republican primary candidates in their respective states. Similarly, the Texas Federation of Teachers endorsed GOP incumbents who opposed school choice initiatives. 

Despite unions’ efforts to influence Republican primaries, success isn’t guaranteed. In Tennessee, where the Educators Association donated significantly to GOP candidates, a notable portion of recipients lost their primaries. Nevertheless, in states like Alabama, teachers unions have wielded considerable influence, becoming the largest contributors to Republican state legislative campaigns. 

This shift reflects unions’ concerns about expanding education choice initiatives, prompting them to support candidates who oppose such policies, even if they disagree on other issues. While the NEA and AFT officially endorse Democratic candidates, their contributions to Republican primaries continue to rise, indicating a broader effort to influence state-level politics. 

Isabel Blank

Isabel Blank is Communications Director at Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector employees offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Prior to joining Americans for Fair Treatment in 2021, Isabel worked in media relations at Travelers Insurance and held government affairs and communications roles with Yankee Institute. She has a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in political science and Spanish, both from the University of Connecticut (Go Huskies!). Isabel loves Crossfit and supporting her local Connecticut breweries.