Lawmakers mum on $310,000 in donations from teachers union amid contract dispute
The Clark County teachers union made donations totaling $310,000 to four members of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee (IFC) in days surrounding a Dec. 13 meeting in which the committee deferred on a funding request from the Clark County School District, campaign finance reports show.
The school district was set to request a portion of a $250 million matching funding created by Democrats during the 2023 legislative session in order to support raises for teachers and support staff. The district was only looking to request a portion of its maximum possible allocation — money for its support staff — as it was still locked in bitter contract negotiations with the Clark County Education Association prior to the Dec. 13 meeting of the IFC. The committee is an interim group of lawmakers that makes spending decisions outside of legislative sessions.
But during the meeting, the chairwoman of the committee, Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas), said the district’s application for a portion of the SB231 dollars was incomplete and the request wouldn’t be considered.
The teachers union and the school district would settle on a new contract — with the intervention of a third party arbitrator — a week later.
One day before the Dec. 13 meeting, Strategic Horizons, a PAC chaired by the union’s Executive Director John Vellardita, donated $150,000 to the Nevada Strong PAC registered to Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas).
A day after the meeting, the union and its PAC donated a total of $60,000 to Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and her PAC, Battle Born and Raised Leadership.
Two days later, the union and its PAC contributed a total of $60,000 to Assemblywoman Shea Backus (D-Las Vegas) and her PAC, Our Best Nevada, as well as $40,000 to Nguyening Leadership, a PAC registered to Sen. Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas).
Backus, Cannizzaro, Nguyen and Yeager did not return requests for comment on Wednesday.
Vellardita did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but told a Nevada Independent reporter last week that the timing of the contributions was “purely coincidental” and had nothing to do with the IFC decision. He added that the contributions were part of a recurring commitment to lawmakers that CCEA has endorsed and the timing came just before an end-of-year fundraising deadline on Dec. 31.
“Everybody wants to get the Dec. 31 filing in to show that they’ve gotten money. That’s all this was about,” he said.
During a press conference a day after the new contract was announced, Vellardita denied that the union had coordinated with lawmakers prior to the IFC meeting as a way to twist the district’s arm.
“If we could coordinate things with lawmakers, we would have had a contract nine months ago,” he said.
Last year, CCEA and one of its PACs donated close to $300,000 to Democratic legislators, including a $50,000 donation to Cannizzaro’s PAC in September and two separate donations of $100,000 in February and August to Yeager’s PAC. That’s lower than its 2023 total donations to Democratic lawmakers, $320,000.
However, many of those 2022 contributions came far later in the election cycle than the 2023 contributions. No individual candidate received a contribution before the opening of the candidate filing period on March 7, 2022, and the only contribution that preceded those filings was the February donation to Yeager.
A look at CCEA’s contributions to legislators over the past five years shows the union and its affiliated PACs rarely make contributions around the end of the year.
In 2020, the union made two donations in December to Sen. Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas) and the Fund Our Schools PAC that was pushing an initiative to raise gaming and sales taxes. In 2019, CCEA donated $5,000 to Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick when she was running for that office. No contributions are shown for 2021 under the name of the union, known union PACS or the address affiliated with the union.
Prior to the IFC meeting, Cannizzaro and Yeager had publicly taken the union’s side throughout its contract fight with the school district, showing up at the union’s rallies, and joining in on their call for Superintendent Jesus Jara’s resignation.
Part of the union’s contract dispute with the school district also centered on differing opinions on how the SB231 funds should be applied. The school district had argued that any raises funded by SB231 should be temporary, as there was no guarantee that lawmakers would renew the bill’s funding.
Meanwhile, CCEA and Democratic lawmakers who sponsored the bill, including Cannizzaro and Yeager, argued that the matching funds are no different than any other funding appropriated by the Legislature for the biennial budget and that the district’s concerns the money would not be available in the future were a “ridiculous argument” for not giving raises.
A separate PAC tied to the union, Clark County Education Association Together In Politics, donated $10,000 to Michelee Cruz-Crawford, a Nevada System of Higher Education regent and elementary school principal, two days after the IFC meeting. Cruz-Crawford is running for State Senate District 1. CCEA also donated $10,000 to Assemblywoman Angie Taylor (D-Reno), a former Washoe County School Board trustee who’s running for Nevada State Senate District 15, a day before New Year’s Eve. Both have previously received campaign contributions from the teachers union.