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Teachers union's political funds grow and some migrate south

New York City’s economy is still suffering, but the teachers union’s political coffers have grown, as have union members’ donations.

An analysis of the United Federation of Teachers’ political activities, done by Kim Gittleson, shows that contributions from union members to the union’s political action committee are at their highest level in 10 years. The amount of money in the fund, called COPE, has increased from an average of $124,000 in the earlier part of the decade to $1.35 million in July of 2009. It’s unclear where the sudden infusion came from and what the union plans to do with it.

Between 2008 and 2009, COPE donated $187,411 to political campaigns. Gittleson breaks down the expenditures to reveal that most of the money went to politicians in Brooklyn, with Manhattan and Queens politicians as the second two largest recipients.

Though it’s located in New York City where its active members teach, the union donated about as much to campaigns in Florida — where many of its retired members live — as it did to those in the Bronx. The Palm Beach County Democratic Party turns up three times on a list of recipients, and the Democratic Club of Greater Boynton Florida makes an appearance.

Despite the influx of more money to spend on political activities, and a growth in charter school advocates’ spending, the UFT hasn’t devoted much of its staff to politics. According to Gittleson’s analysis, about seven percent of all UFT employee activities focused on lobbying between 2008 and 2009. And 61 of the 623 paid UFT employees, or around 10 percent, spent more than a quarter of their time on political activities.

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