Chicago Teachers Union spends $17M on Illinois political campaigns

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith

Jon Josko

Data Scientist

Jon Josko
January 26, 2023

Chicago Teachers Union spends $17M on Illinois political campaigns

The Chicago Teachers Union has funneled more than $17 million to Illinois political committees since 2010, when the militant Caucus of Rank and File Educators took over leadership. Now, one of their employees is running for Chicago mayor.

When Karen Lewis and her Caucus of Rank and File Educators took over the Chicago Teachers Union in 2010, it launched the union into years of activism, strikes and political wrangling.

Since then, CTU and its political action committee have directed nearly $17.2 million to political committees, according to records with the Illinois State Board of Elections.1

Those records show contributions to candidate committees include:

  • Over $2.5 million to Illinois Senate and House candidates
  • Over $1.3 million to current Chicago mayoral candidates
  • Over $505,000 to current Chicago aldermanic candidates

This includes nearly $590,000 to Brandon Johnson, a CTU lobbyist, in his current bid for mayor.

It also includes an additional $12.7 million directed to other political committees and candidates.

Some of those committees – such as the Democratic Party of Illinois – use contributions to then fund candidates. That means CTU political contributions fund far more candidates than it appears by using these pass-through committees.

But the amount of money CTU has funneled to political candidates is only one part of the picture. A look at how many candidates – including the majority of sitting lawmakers and Chicago aldermen – also shows how CTU spreads its political clout.

CTU funds half of sitting state lawmakers

Since 2010, CTU has funneled $2.05 million to candidates running for the Illinois House of Representatives and an additional $528,000 to Senate candidates.

That includes more than $1.2 million to 89 out of 175 current lawmakers2 in the Illinois General Assembly.

See the list of current lawmakers receiving funds from CTU

CTU has funded 34 of the 50 current Chicago aldermen

Since 2010, CTU has donated more than $790,000 to sitting Chicago aldermen. That includes nearly $506,000 to 30 candidates running for City Council in the 2023 election. With the average expense in the 2019 aldermanic race sitting at just over $1,000, CTU seems to work hard to ensure the candidates it prefers win.

See the list of aldermanic candidates receiving funds from CTU

As of Jan. 2, the union had funded 34 of the current 50 aldermen. That’s over two out of three City Council members.

See the list of current aldermen receiving funds from CTU

CTU has funneled over $1.3 million to current Chicago mayoral candidates

Mayor Lori Lightfoot was not CTU’s choice for mayor in the 2019 election. CTU endorsed Toni Preckwinkle, ultimately donating over $290,000 to her unsuccessful campaign. It donated nothing to Lightfoot.

CTU is continuing its political wrangling in 2023, this time endorsing Brandon Johnson, one of its own lobbyists.

As of Jan. 18, 2023, CTU had already directed nearly $590,000 to his campaign – more than double its funding to Preckwinkle’s unsuccessful 2019 mayoral bid.

Other recipients over the years include Chuy Garcia (nearly $753,000) and Sophia King ($2,000), who are both currently running for mayor.

CTU’s focus on politics hurts teachers and students

CORE has come under fire from other CTU members for its overt political actions and frequent strikes. Another caucus within CTU – the Members First caucus – states CTU’s reputation has been “greatly tarnished” under CORE leadership.

“The current leadership of the CTU sees work stoppages and strikes as the first step, and not the last one,” its website stated before the 2022 CTU leadership election.

A January 2022 walkout resulted in over 330,000 schoolchildren missing five days of school. Parents were notified of the walkout after 11 p.m. on a school night, leaving them just hours to develop a back-up plan – as most folks were asleep – after the union decided not to show up.

That shut-down followed canceled classes in January 2021, when CTU refused to return to school for in-person learning. Before that there was the 2019 strike, which resulted in 11 days of missed school. An illegal strike in 2016 cost students another day of school. And a strike in 2012 left kids out of school for seven days of instruction.

In short, strikes have been CTU’s go-to “bargaining” tool for years. The union even takes credit for triggering multiple teachers’ union strikes around the nation in the past decade.

This has left many teachers and parents frustrated and disillusioned.

When CTU was preparing to walk out on students in 2019, teacher and CTU member Karen Moody told the Chicago Tribune, “CTU has strayed from the mission I thought I was funding: supporting teachers.”

But the current leadership fuels political activism and controversy. After the 2021 standoff, then-President Jesse Sharkey told the Chicago Tribune, “We’re a union that fights the boss. That was true for Daley, it’s true for Rahm, it’s true for Lightfoot. It’s going to be true for whoever’s mayor next.”

That same year, Lightfoot predicted the union wanted to take over City Hall.

“I think, ultimately, they’d like to take over not only Chicago Public Schools, but take over running the city government,” she told The New York Times.

Now with one of their own in the mayoral race, that prediction could come to pass.

But CTU’s political weight goes beyond the current mayoral election. From alderman to state senators, CTU’s political contributions reveal the union is a political heavyweight in Chicago and throughout the state.

1Contributions from CTU to political candidates/committees in Illinois were obtained from records maintained by the Illinois State Board of Elections from Jan. 1, 2010, through Jan. 18, 2023.

2As of Jan. 17, 2023, two Illinois House districts were unfilled, with appointments to come at a later date. Those districts were 82 and 106. That brought the total number of lawmakers to 175 instead of the typical 177.

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