Normally, KEA wouldn't submit an op-ed on the issue of money in politics, because it's a given that there's a lot of it around. But for the third time in as many weeks, this paper and others have carried op-eds or printed articles about how KEA spends its political money. Ironically, although KEA's political spending has been the headline, some of those same articles also note that our expenditures are "dwarfed" by spending on the other side. We aren't sure why KEA's political spending is of such interest, suddenly, to so many different people. But we can guess.
Depending on your frame of mind, KEA is either a professional organization for public school educators or it's the "teacher's union." Regardless, the essence of our mission is to promote the cause of public education in the Commonwealth. That means we organize and empower KEA members to strive for what they believe are the best learning conditions for Kentucky public school students and the best working conditions for public school educators. Period. Nothing more and nothing less.
Yes, KEA collects dues from its members. Paying dues is a requirement of membership in KEA and in many other associations, like the Chamber of Commerce and AARP. Some associations also have political action committees: KEA certainly does -- ours is called the Kentucky Educators Political Action Committee (KEPAC). KEPAC was first registered with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance (KREF) in 1976, so it has been around for a long time.
Despite what some people want you to believe, KEPAC is not funded by KEA member dues money. Instead, like all PACs, KEA collects voluntary contributions from members to fund KEPAC. Those contributions are not a requirement of membership in KEA. Voluntary contributions to KEPAC are in addition to and completely separate from member dues. And like all legitimate PACs, KEPAC makes regular reports to KREF, so all our collected contributions and political spending are public record.
The obviously partisan writers of the recent op-eds complain that we spend most of our money on Democrats. Statistically, that's true. The reason for that is pretty obvious: historically, based on campaign positions and policies enacted while governing, Democrats have been more supportive than Republicans of causes like public schools. Democrats have also tended to more robustly support the rights of Kentuckians to unionize. But over the years, KEPAC has also found Republican candidates that share our values regarding public education. Because we have an open endorsement process, when those candidates emerge, KEPAC takes the opportunity to endorse. Are all our endorsed candidates, regardless of party, perfectly aligned to our positions? No. Do we consider any candidates' position about any issue outside public education? No. Do KEPAC's endorsements of supportive Republicans cause heartburn for our Democratic members? Yes. But KEPAC does it anyway, because KEA and its members are entirely focused on public education issues and nothing else.
It's worth noting here that many well-funded PACs operating in Kentucky only support Republicans, and don't even attempt to cross party lines. For instance, during the 2018 election cycle, the Commonwealth Policy PAC, Americans for Prosperity, Kentucky Tomorrow, Inc., Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, and the Republican State Leadership Committee all spent money solely in support of Republican candidates. Many of those same PACs, along with the Republican Governors' Association and the Republican Attorney Generals' Association are working in the current election supporting Bevin and the Republican ticket. Where's the outrage about that?
Like our detractors, KEA could write an op-ed every week complaining about how none of those PACs support any Democrats, but that would be absurd because no one expects them to do otherwise. KEA is proud of KEPAC's bi-partisan work and of all the members who voluntarily contribute to make it one of the biggest PACs in the state. It's flattering, really, that KEA's political spending is of such interest and that so much energy is being spent "discovering" what we've been doing. We haven't been hiding it.
Eddie Campbell is the president of the Kentucky Education Association.