Chicago Teachers Union, affiliates biggest spenders on Chicago politics

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
December 12, 2023

Chicago Teachers Union, affiliates biggest spenders on Chicago politics

The Chicago Teachers Union and its state and national affiliates spent nearly $6.5 million on Chicago political candidates between Feb. 28, 2022, and May 4, 2023.

After the Chicago Teachers Union and its allies paid Brandon Johnson’s way through the Chicago mayoral election in February, the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board asked, “Is the Chicago Teachers Union the new machine?”

If campaign spending on Chicago politicians is any indication, the answer is an unequivocal yes.

CTU and its state and national affiliates – the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers – spent nearly $6.5 million on Chicago mayoral, city council, city clerk and city treasurer candidates between Feb. 28, 2022, and May 4, 2023.

That makes CTU and its affiliates the largest spenders on Chicago politics.

CTU’s tremendous spending on Chicago politics lends credence to former Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2021 prediction: CTU would “like to take over not only Chicago Public Schools, but take over running the city government.”

To that end, Brandon Johnson was the leading Chicago recipient of teachers union money during that time period.

Johnson’s deep ties to CTU should worry Chicagoans. Johnson, a former “legislative coordinator” for CTU, will be sitting across the table from his former CTU colleagues when they negotiate a new contract in 2024. Their tight relationship effectively places CTU on both sides of the bargaining table.

What’s on the line if he keeps toeing the CTU line? A plethora of expensive contract demands, with taxpayers bearing the costs. Past demands include defunding the police – Johnson himself once said he would cut the Chicago Police budget by at least $150 million – and creating affordable housing. Those potential provisions are not typically negotiated into teachers union contracts, but could be under Johnson’s tenure. And while the union has focused on non-education demands, most students within Chicago Public Schools can’t read or do math at grade level.

CTU’s political spending should also worry its own members. Among other poor financial decisions, the union spent nearly three times more on politics in 2023 than the year before, yet just 17% of its spending was on representing teachers. It also ran its first deficit budget since it started filing reports with the U.S. Department of Labor. It has since raised dues on its members by 13%.

All this comes under the leadership of its president Stacy Davis Gates – who herself has defaulted on her utility bills and owes the city nearly $5,600 for water, sewer and garbage services.

CTU is clearly more interested in being a political player in Chicago than it is in representing teachers. Chicago Public Schools employees interested in opting out of union membership – and stopping dues to the union – can learn more at

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!