Apparently, the D.C. at-large special election is all about who can be more like former D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty. Republican Ward 1 State Board of Education member Pat Mara, former Fenty staffer Josh Lopez and interim councilmember Sekou Biddle are all trying to sound like Fenty and former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee when they speak about education reform.
Lopez, for one, is explicitly pushing this angle and is asking Mayor Vince Gray (who has endorsed Biddle) to drop the “interim” before interim Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s title. Henderson, a former Rhee deputy, is considered the best hope to carry on her reforms. (Mara has made the same request.)
“Chancellor Henderson needs to be given the job on a permanent basis,” Lopez said in a press release. “She is the last hope for the continuation of the progress we have made in education.”
In the release, Lopez — the only candidate with enough signatures already to make the ballot — made an eyebrow-rising claim. “Gray ... received a majority of his campaign contributions from the Washington Teachers’ Union.”
Wow. Forget about (D-D.C.)? How about (D-Washington Teachers' Union)?
Not quite. The teachers’ union itself didn’t actually give any money to Gray’s campaign. Its only direct donation during the 2010 election cycle was to Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas in the amount of $500, according to online records from the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.
Teachers’ unions — and labor in general — did work to defeat Fenty, who they loathed. (One local union leader called him "the most arrogant individual I’ve ever met.") Ben Smith of Politico reported a day after the election that the American Federation of Teachers (of which the Washington Teachers’ Union is a part) spent around $1 million to defeat Fenty. But they spent the money as part of an independent campaign, not in direct donations to Gray. By law, the unions’ effort was separate from his campaign:
[T]he consultant said that most of the money went to unlimited and unregulated communication with union members, intense outreach to the union's more than 2,000 members in the district and to the between 30,000 and 40,000 AFL-CIO members in Washington, D.C. Each group received three mailings and several live calls; the union also did its own polling on the race.
As of the week before the primary, Gray had raised $1.15 million (he raised more after the primary, but at that point, his election was fait accompli). That shows the amount the AFT spent wasn't chump change. But it wasn't in direct campaign contributions.
Lopez presented this explanation to us as his reasoning for the statement, while adding that individual members of the WTU made contributions as well. "The bulk of the total money spent on his campaign came from those unions," he said.
The union endorsed Gray, and made little secret of its dislike of Fenty, but they didn’t provide the majority of the bankroll for Gray’s race. In fact, they didn't provide any direct money at all. Independent expenditure campaigns and the Gray campaign are totally separate, an important distinction Lopez completely ignores and it's Total Malarkey.