PoliGraph: Bachmann state aid claim fails the truth test

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann had some choice words for a recently passed $26 billion bill meant to aid states hit hard by the economic downturn.

“Taxpayer money will essentially be laundered through the public employee unions, and spent to reelect those same Democrats this fall,” Bachmann said on the Aug. 10 episode of FOX News’s Freedom Watch with Judge Napolitano.

The next day, she clarified her point on another FOX News program, saying, “Quite literally what will happen is this money will be shifted over to public employee unions. The unions will skim off the top; they’ll put a good portion of that into political action committees.”

Bachmann’s claim underscores an opinion held by other Republicans that the legislation is meant to win favor with teachers and other workers during an election year. Some have argued that, because the funding will be used to maintain worker salaries, a portion of that money could end up with unions in the form of dues.

Bachmann’s claim implies that state aid will literally be used to pad Democrats’ campaign-funding chests. But that’s not true. The money will go to states, not unions.

The bill includes rules on how the money will be administered and what it can be used for.

The Evidence

The legislation includes $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs and about $16 billion to help states maintain expanded Medicaid coverage that was established by the federal stimulus bill.

Bachmann is vague on which “public employee unions” she’s talking about, and her office did not respond to inquiries for clarification. But it appears she’s referring to teachers’ unions. (The Medicaid component of the bill doesn’t change how the federal government matches state funding for the program.)

The $10 billion in education funding will be administered by the Department of Education. It will allocate funding to states based total population and school age population. Then, states will distribute funds to schools based on formulas. The Minnesota Department of Education has not decided how it will allocate the funds, but it’s important to note that the decision will be left up to state officials, not teachers’ unions.

Furthermore, the bill expressly states that the education funding must “be used only for awards to local educational agencies for the support of elementary and secondary education… for the 2010-2011 school year.” The legislation also states that the money can be used only to pay school employees who would otherwise be laid-off or to rehire employees. Moreover, the funding cannot be used to pay-off state debt or for “rainy-day” funds.

The Verdict

Bachmann is wrong to say that the state aid will be “laundered” through public employee unions and used to help reelect Democrats. In fact, the bill is clear that the money can only be used to keep teachers on the payroll.

Her claim does not pass the PoliGraph test.


FOX Business, Rep. Michele Bachmann on Freedom Watch with Judge Napolitano, Aug. 10, 2010

YouTube, Rep. Michele Bachmann on FOX News, Aug. 11, 2010

Reuters, House Passes State Aid Bill, by Lisa Lambert, Aug. 11, 2010

THOMAS, H.R. 1586, accessed Aug. 13, 2010

Summary, The Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act, accessed Aug. 13, 2010

Kaiser Family Foundation, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA): Medicaid and Health Care Provisions, accessed Aug. 16, 2010

Department of Education, Title I — Improving The Academic Achievement Of The Disadvantaged, accessed Aug. 16, 2010

The Washington Post, Bachmann and Angle agree: State aid is “laundered” money for Dems, by Greg Sargent, Aug. 11, 2010

Interview, Christine Dufour, spokeswoman, Minnesota Department of Education, Aug. 16, 2010

Interview, Lonnie Hartley, spokesman, Education Minnesota, Aug. 16, 2010


University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute

Hear Poligraph reporter Catharine Richert’s conversation with Tom Crann on MPR’s All Things Considered:

  • I would guess that many, if not most of her claims wouldn’t pass the PoliGraph. She doesn’t make these kinds of statements to ‘get the truth out’, but rather to excite and inflame anyone who will pay attention.

  • rev

    As always, Bachmann is a loon.

  • Anna

    Please, don’t insult our state bird!

  • AAA

    I guess you could come to the conclusion that the Dems in DC giving money tot he states to make sure no Teachers (req’d to be union here in MN and the DFL is a wholly owned subsidiary of the teacher’s union) ) has nothing to do with elections. But you probably spend a lot of time trying to find ways around that as evidenced above.

    Say, care to mention how Bachmann’s opponent was endorsed in a union hall?

  • Karl

    Michele Bachmann knowingly took tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from a convicted money-launderer, Tom Petters associate Frank Vennes Jr., and his immediate family, and has the nerve to accuse Democrats of “laundering” money? That’s rich.

  • This is disappointing. Not what Bachmann said or meant to say or didn’t say but was construed to say, which is usually what we end up discussing re:Bachmann. No, what is disappointing is that MPR missed the boat on this one.

    It is fairly well understood that Union Dues include a political element. The deductible dues that appear on the employee W-2 have no political contributions or political PAC element to them. What you don’t see are the rest. To understand you need to reconcile ‘scale’ with ‘pay.’

    Ask any Carpenter, or Plumber, or Trades worker to reconcile what they get on their weekly pay stub to what the Union Rate might be. There is a difference. The difference is the monies going into the Union’s PAC. Do you think they pull all the money they spend on politics out of thin air? Ask any trades worker whether they actually see $68/hour for each hour they work! Each union has it’s own descriptor, but they all work the same. Each worker in the union is forced to contribute to the war-chest.

    So Bachmann is saying that if money goes to Union Workers in the form of pay, regardless of who touches it in-between, this portion is automatically assigned to the Union’s war chest for political lobbying.

    I’m shocked that MPR missed this. Very disappointing! I’m disappointed that I now have to brand this Website with all the rest of the hyperbole generating evil vortices of political blather.

  • I think Michele Bachmann is right on here. Just before Congressional elections, Obama and Pelosi pull out the stops to spread a little cash around for teachers’ unions. Tell me how Michele is actually wrong.

  • MN voter

    “I think Michele Bachmann is right on here. Just before Congressional elections, Obama and Pelosi pull out the stops to spread a little cash around for teachers’ unions. Tell me how Michele is actually wrong”.Posted by Steve Carlson | August 17, 2010 10:30 PM

    This typical Bachmann supported had it clearly explained to him why Bachmann is wrong in the article. Not known for their reading comprehension skills, Tea Party people want someone to draw them a picture with pretty crayons.

  • poryorick

    @Ford: Not all teachers are union members so your logic is FAIL.

    And besides, to pay or to not pay union dues (i.e. to join a union or not) is an individual choice about how to use one’s *earned* income (this program doesn’t just give money to teachers for nothing). Are you suggesting that teachers’ jobs shouldn’t be saved unless we can dictate how they spend that money? Or should we just never attempt to save the jobs of those whose general voting tendencies don’t align with your own?

  • Reggie

    Let me start by saying that I think Bachmann is a grade A loony.

    However, as Ford noted above, Poligraph completely missed the boat on this one. There’s no doubt about it: some of the money in this stimulus bill will end up with teachers’ union, and therefore will likely fund their political activities.

    The important thing to consider, though, is the magnitude of the issue. Here’s some back of the envelope analysis:

    100% of the $10B has to be spent on teacher compensation;

    let’s assume 70% of that is spent on salary (with the rest going to benefits): leaves you with $700,000,000

    Back out federal (25%) and state income tax (7%): leaves $475,650,000 on after tax teacher wages

    Union dues at 1% of after tax wages (I have no idea if this is reasonable, but you can scale it easily) leaves you with approximately $4.7M paid to unions across the country.

    Hardly enough to sway a whole lot of elections, but not chump change either.

  • poryorick

    @Reggie: There’s an awful lot of assumption in your defense of Bachmann’s position, and none of it addresses the questions I posed to Ford.

    Since your figures also go under the premise that all teachers are union members (a demonstrable falsehood; see the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which pegs education union membership at only 38.1%) your entire argument – which also includes a great deal of conjecture unsubstantiated by fact – collapses.

  • Bachmann is simply expressing the frustration of seeing barge loads of money dumped into the core Democratic constituencies. The Dems are protecting their turf with mountains of our money. Buying votes is not a new strategy, it’s a strategy you, Bachmann, everybody has seen over and over.

    It’s true that not all teachers are Union. And it’s also true that not all the money would go to the Unions even if they were. But why pick on teachers anyway? This money was also used to support that other bastion of bloated payroll known as public employee unions. The direct beneficiaries of the $26 B are people who vote their pocket books no different than the rest of us. They vote for candidate most likely to continue to allow them to line their pockets on a public payroll. The Dem’s strategy is to keep them well fed.

    I’m not speaking to the need for teachers and public employees to lose or keep their jobs. I’m speaking to the fact that Bachmann haters are nit picking again. And MPR missed the boat.

  • JackU

    Here’s my stab at the calculations:

    According to some sites (mostly conservative and none with primary source information that I can find a link for) 57% of teachers are unionized. So if we start there then assuming (and it’s a bad assumption) that the money will spread proportionally to union and non-union jobs then we start with $5.7 billion going to unionized teachers. If we take the Minnesota average of about $49,000/year salary for calculation purposes and $300/year union dues (cited on some of the same sites that have the 57% number.) Then dues is about 0.6% of the teachers salary. The result is that about $34 million might make it to the unions in dues. Dividing that by 50 states then you are providing about $680,000 to each state union.

  • Nick

    I am shocked that this did not end up as inconclusive. After listening to the broadcast of this and reading through all of the other PoliGraphs this should not have been listed as False. Bachmann did not make a claim about how much money would end up with the Democrats, just that it would. And it will. If 10 billion is going to maintain teachers then one can assume that means salaries, which of course means union and PAC dues. She is also right to call it money laundering, because that is what it is. MPR needs to re-examine this issue on the air.

  • Here is my take on implications of $26B on MN.

    MN Pop 5.5 million US Pop 303 million 1.83%

    $26 x 1.83% = $477 million to MN.

    $477 x 1% to unions (teachers, public empl, etc) $4.8 million to unions in MN

    But more important than this is the political clout these people have over the rest of us.

    MN pop 5.5 million. Voters 3.5 million. Figure 60% turnout in November 2.1 million voters.

    Now the MN budget directly funds about 390,000 jobs through state, county, city, schools. You can darn near bank on the fact that 100% of them vote. And they bring spouses voting too! So here is a block of maybe 700,000 voters directly dependent on the municipal bloat in this country. That’s a voting contingent of 33%!

    That’s what Bachmann is addressing. Using a monetary fire hose spewing money directly at the core Democratic voting pool is what Bachmann is calling out. And MPR missed the boat completely by focusing on minutia.

  • poryorick

    @JackU: It’s not $5.7 billion, though. I’ve given you the most credible source for information on union membership (Bureau of Labor Statistics) which you either didn’t see or are choosing to ignore. And the 38.1% of education union members doesn’t even consider that the teachers’ unions are also made up in large part by support staff (bus drivers, custodial, food service, etc.).

    Choosing to ignore data that doesn’t suit one’s particular (or partisan) argument is exactly why we can’t have a useful discussion about politics right now. And changing the argument mid-stream (Ford) is intellectually dishonest, and unworthy of response.

    MPR is right about Bachmann’s equivocation. It’s just more of the partisan propaganda and knowing lies that is part and parcel of her cynical approach to governance.

  • @poryorick..

    Changing arguments mid-stream? …unworthy of response…? You have no response. And I’m still on point! 33% of the voters are the core Democratic constituency. The money was directed specifically at them–teachers are only a subset of that group. Intellectual dishonesty is viewing the obvious and denying reality.

    You need to learn to read between the lines on these bills produced by the purveyors of pork. Claiming to subsidize one part of the state budget frees up money available for the rest. So when they talk about $26B for Teachers, and funding medicare, they are really talking about preventing the firing of state funded employees (e.g. maintenance workers, sanitation experts, city services, etc., most of which are union). But for the bailout, firing unessential employees would be inevitable if funds were othewise consumed by these two urgent needs (teachers and medicare).

  • Reggie

    Yikes! Just re-read my analysis. I was off by a factor of ten.

    Here’s a new one, using 38.1% unionization rate (which is actually for all workers in the education, training, and library occupations; my guess is if you just had public school teachers, this rate would be higher).

    Start with $10B

    Take 70% to get amount allocated for salaries = $7,000,000,000

    Less federal and state income tax = $4,756,500,000

    Times 38.1% unionization rate = $1,812,226,500

    Times 0.6% for annual union dues = $108,733,590.

    This analysis does include some significant assumptions, most notably the amount of annual dues, and teacher unionization rate. None the less, it’s the only one posted here that corrects for taxes and fringe benefits, providing an actual estimate of after tax teacher income coming from the grant.

    And @poryorick, even if the unionization rate is far lower (say 10%), and union dues are only $200 a year, you’re still looking at over $19M to education unions nationally.

    Lastly, I support this legislation. I think it’s an important shot in the arm to struggling schools. I also support journalists who bother to fact check. I just think Poligraph is way off course here.

  • Reggie

    For crying out loud. I should just quit now, or do this at home, instead of at work. I screwed up the 0.6% for union dues.

    Now that I’ve destroyed all credibility, totals from my last post should actually be: $10,873,359 to unions nationally; and $1,902,600 under the much lower unionization rate scenario.

    This version is actually right.

  • JBL

    At Education Minnesota, members are asked if they’d like to donate $10 to the state PAC and $5 or $10 to a federal PAC. Most support the state PAC, less than half also give to a federal PAC. That’s the only money they use to fund campaign work, which is what Bachmann referenced. Because of various campaign finance laws, a union can’t use regular dues money to finance election work.

    If we get 2400 teachers put back to work in Minnesota, and if every single one of them gives $20 to the PACs, that’s a whopping $48,000 that would be “laundered” in Minnesota.

    Compared to what Bachmann is raising from out of state Tea Partiers, that’s not even a drop in the bucket.

  • @JBL I think your numbers are a bit low. According to the Education MN constitution, the dues are 0.7% of the previous year’s pay.

    See section 2a on their website.

    “2a Dues for active members shall be seven-tenths of one percent (.007) of the average public school teacher’s salary in Minnesota during the previous year, and any special assessments set forth in the Bylaws. The Governing Board shall establish the dollar amount.”

    Section 3 covers annual assessments:

    a Crisis Fund $10

    b Political Action Fund $10

    c Ed MN Foundatioin for Excellence $5

    d Statewide Media Fund $10

  • How did this thread get to thinking this had anything to do with Teachers? Look at the quote again…

    “Quite literally what will happen is this money will be shifted over to public employee unions. The unions will skim off the top; they’ll put a good portion of that into political action committees.”

    So this is precisely what I was expressing previously. By dumping $26B into unemployed teachers and medicare, money gets freed up to support employees that would otherwise be FIRED from public employee union jobs. In the case of teachers, the “skim” rate is 0.7% plus $35. In the other 6 public employee unions, the skim rate is different but very real. A teacher in MN pays about $385 if memory serves me right. $385 less 35 equals $350 divided by .7% is an average pay of exactly $50K–not bad for 9 months of work. Grossed up that would be almost $67K/year (on average).

    So the Ed MN warchest is substantial. Bachmann simply points out that this money will get funneled through the unions to net pay for workers substantially voting for Democrats.

    MPR missed the point of her comments and attacked the awkwardly worded statements without even attempting to interpret her intent.

  • poryorick

    “…interpret her intent.”