Idaho Education Association joins progressive advocacy group

Idaho Education Association joins progressive advocacy group

Idaho Education Association joins progressive advocacy group

The Idaho Education Association (IEA) has become a member of a progressive advocacy organization founded by Boise Mayor Lauren McClean, the teachers union’s latest tax return shows.

According to its Form 990 for the 2021-22 tax year filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the IEA contributed $25,000 to the Idaho Progressive Investor Network, describing the transaction as an “annual membership payment.” The contribution to the Network is the only gift listed on the IEA’s tax return.

The IEA is the Idaho statewide affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teachers union. The contribution to the Idaho Progressive Investor Network was made using dues paid by Idaho teachers for workplace representation and was the first such contribution reflected on the IEA’s tax returns.

What is the Idaho Progressive Investor Network?

McClean founded the Network as an LLC in 2010, according to Idaho Secretary of State records. While its legal name remains the “Idaho Progressive Investor Network,” the term “progressive” is often omitted from its name in other contexts. For instance, McClean left out the term in a 2019 interview with Boise State Public Radio, and the IEA’s tax return referred merely to the “Idaho Investor Network,” though the address it listed for the organization is the same one listed on the Idaho Progressive Investor Network’s most recent annual report.

As an LLC instead of a nonprofit, the Network need not file a publicly available tax return. It has no website or meaningful online presence.

Instead, it appears to operate as a private hub for progressive donors to coordinate strategic giving to left-of-center advocacy groups seeking to influence policy debates, and sometimes elections, in Idaho.

In 2019, McClean described the mission of the Idaho Progressive Investor Network to the Idaho Press as connecting “those who want to contribute to progressive causes to organizations working on those issues throughout Idaho.”

According to the article, the network “helped connect its members to groups like the campaign to expand Medicaid,” the “progressive group Better Idaho,” and “voter access efforts for Latinos in Canyon County.” McClean also claimed that “none of the funds her group raises go directly to candidates.”

However, at the peak of the 2020 general election campaign, the Network contributed $30,000 to the “Stronger Idaho PAC,” according to Idaho Secretary of State campaign finance records. The only other consequential donors to Stronger Idaho were the Idaho Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the IEA’s Political Action Committee for Education, the International Association of Fire Fighters’ (IAFF) political committee, and the Conservation Voters for Idaho Action Fund.

Days after the Stronger Idaho PAC received the Network’s contribution, the Idaho Secretary of State issued a warning regarding a “deceptive mailer” sent by the PAC designed to boost voter turnout — presumably among Democrat-leaning voters — by urging them to “protect your voting record” and warning, ominously, that “whether or not you vote is a matter of public record.”

The IEA isn’t the first labor union to contribute to the Idaho Progressive Investor Network. U.S. Department of Labor records show that the International Association of Fire Fighters contributed $25,000 to the organization in 2013 and $12,500 in 2014. In both cases, the union categorized the contributions as for “political activities and lobbying.”

Still progressive

While the extent of McClean’s current involvement with the Network is unclear, it appears to remain under progressive administration. The Network’s corporate records show that its registered agent is Boise-based Civic Courage Consulting, and its “manager” is progressive activist Antonio Hernandez, the owner of Civic Courage Consulting.

On social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, Hernandez regularly expresses support for progressive causes, from criticizing a county clerk for describing the United States’ form of government as a “constitutional democratic republic” (Hernandez admits the term is “technically… more accurate” but derides it as an “elitist form of messaging”) to celebrating the election of Shiva Rajbhandari, a college student and environmental activist, to the Boise School District board of trustees.

In one particularly emblematic post, Hernandez wrote:

“Black Lives Matter more than anyone’s feelings. My grandfathers life mattered more than anyone having to wear a mask. The lives of families migrating between the US and MX matter more than a wall. Trans people matter more than anyone’s discomfort. Honor the treaties and tribes.”

More recently, he has re-posted accusations that Israel is engaged in “genocide” and calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Following a national model

In many ways, the Idaho Progressive Investor Network is modeled on the national Democracy Alliance, which Influence Watch describes as “a collective of left-of-center donors that has been active in orchestrating ‘the activities of a permanent left infrastructure’ since 2004,” to the tune of billions of dollars.

Prominent labor unions are regular contributors to the Democracy Alliance. The NEA — IEA’s parent affiliate — alone has contributed more than $3.2 million to the Democracy Alliance since 2008, U.S. Department of Labor records show.

The Network and Alliance also share close personal connections. For instance, the Democracy Alliance’s board chair, John Stocks, was formerly executive director of the NEA and, before that, served a single term as a Democrat state senator in the Idaho legislature.

Stocks, who now resides in Wisconsin, personally contributed $5,000 to the Stronger Idaho PAC in 2020 and $1,000 to McClean’s re-election campaign in 2022. McClean described Stocks to the Idaho Press in 2019 as “an investor” in the Idaho Progressive Investor Network.

Exposing the IEA’s true colors

As a teachers union in a state in which nearly two-thirds of voters back Republican presidential candidates, the IEA knows that projecting a certain degree of objectivity is politically savvy. “Our union is non-partisan,” one IEA officer recently wrote for the union’s website. While this may be true in the narrowest technical sense, the IEA’s membership in the Idaho Progressive Investor Network is the latest confirmation that the union’s values and worldview skew far to the left.

As an affiliate of the NEA, $208 per year in dues paid by each Idaho member are forwarded by the IEA to the NEA headquarters in Washington, D.C., which the Wall Street Journal described in 2021 as “the ideological and institutional vanguard of progressive politics.”

Financial ties aside, there’s no reason to believe there is any ideological daylight between the IEA and the NEA. For example, last year the IEA’s leadership team proudly participated in the NEA’s “Freedom to Learn” rally in Orlando, which the NEA described as a protest against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and like-minded elected officials at which NEA officials, joined by “local and national racial and social justice organizations,” waved “rainbow flags,” decried “gun violence,” and at which NEA president Becky Pringle declared, “our students do not need protection from drag queens.”

Implications for state policy

There’s nothing illegal or inherently improper about a labor union contributing funds to another private organization like the Idaho Progressive Investor Network or otherwise advocating for progressive political views, policies or candidates. And there’s nothing wrong with the Network’s supporters wishing to engage in progressive-oriented philanthropic or charitable giving anonymously.

However, IEA members deserve to know how their dues are spent so they can make an informed decision about whether membership in an NEA-affiliated union aligns with their values. Highlighting contributions to political entities like the Network is particularly important given the IEA’s at least misleading assurances to its members that, “IEA dues dollars cannot be given directly to candidates.”

And, perhaps more importantly, taxpayers shouldn’t have to underwrite the IEA’s fundamentally political operations and advocacy.

As the Freedom Foundation documented in a recent report, teachers unions in Idaho currently benefit from hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in direct and indirect support from tax-funded Idaho school districts. For instance, the IEA’s 2021-22 tax return discloses receipt of nearly $1.5 million in “government grants” alone.

The Idaho legislature is currently considering legislation that would prohibit or regulate some of the most egregious mechanisms by which the IEA has secured taxpayer support in Idaho.

These common-sense reforms are widely supported by Idaho voters and deserve to be enacted into law.

Director of Research and Government Affairs
As the Freedom Foundation’s Director of Research and Government Affairs, Maxford Nelsen leads the team working to advance the Freedom Foundation’s mission through strategic research, public policy advocacy, and labor relations. Max regularly testifies on labor issues before legislative bodies and his research has formed the basis of several briefs submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court. Max’s work has been published in local newspapers around the country and in national outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, National Review, and the American Spectator. His work on labor policy issues has been featured in media outlets like the New York Times, Fox News, and PBS News Hour. He is a frequent guest on local radio stations like 770 KTTH and 570 KVI. From 2019-21, Max was a presidential appointee to the Federal Service Impasses Panel within the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which resolves contract negotiation disputes between federal agencies and labor unions. Prior to joining the Freedom Foundation in 2013, Max worked for and the Washington Policy Center and interned with the Heritage Foundation. Max holds a labor relations certificate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduated magna cum laude from Whitworth University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. A Washington native, he lives in Olympia with his wife and sons.