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Alabama Republicans ban school board candidates from accepting AEA money

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Republican Party on Saturday voted overwhelmingly to prohibit its members running for school boards from accepting campaign contributions from the state’s largest teachers’ lobby.

More than 200 out of 297 voters opted to approve the new rule change, which prohibits candidates for the Alabama School Board, county school boards or the superintendent of education from accepting or soliciting contributions from the National Education Association or the Alabama Education Association. 

Republicans who violate the new rule would result in an automatic denial of ballot access. Unsolicited contributions from the teachers unions to Republican candidates would be required to be returned within seven days.

Andrew Sorrell, State Auditor of Alabama and member of the state Republican Party Executive Committee, called the ban “one of the most consequential changes we’re going to consider today,” and argued that it was a “conflict of interest” for the AEA or NEA to be contributing to those running to become an authority in the state’s education realm.

“This is an organization which does not share our core values, and they are donating thousands of dollars to directly determine education policy in Alabama,” Sorrell said. “We believe this will send a strong message to the AEA and will result in better educational outcomes moving forward.”

The rule change was proposed by John Wahl, chairman of the Alabama GOP, who committed to adequately fund Republican candidates running for education positions in the absence of contributions from the groups.

Alabama GOP Chairman John Wahl.

“My goal behind this is to free our superintendents, our school board candidates from influence from outside organizations,” Wahl said. “I want them to be loyal to the parents more than to any special interest group or teacher’s union, and that’s my priority.”

The proposal sparked discussion among the hundreds of members at the meeting Saturday, including from Don Wallace, former Tuscaloosa County commissioner, who proposed an amendment to the rule change to include candidates for the state Legislature.

The AEA routinely donates to  both Republican and Democratic legislators in Alabama, having given a total of $2.4 million to 81 of the 105 members of the State House, and $1.3 million to members of the State Senate. In 2022-2023 alone, the AEA gave $627,500 to State House members, and $850,000 to State Senate members, according to the Alabama Policy Institute.

Alabama Daily News reported last year the AEA’s lobbying arm was the top contributor to legislative races and focused on the Republican majority.

The proposed amendment, however, was ultimately shot down, with Rep. Ron Bolton, R-Northport, speaking against setting such restrictions on contributions for lawmakers.

“Our party’s not in disarray the way that the Democratic Party is; we’ve got a super majority and we’re really able to get things done,” Bolton said. 

“If we start trying to tell people in government what they can and can’t do, we’re going to have to look at where we draw the lines. I personally opposed gaming, and everyone of the gaming lobbyists, I met with them and I told them that I will not take money, and I had big offers. I don’t take money from gaming, but it should be the individual candidates’ decision on what they do.”

Rep. Ron Bolton speaks during a Alabama GOP event.

The new rule was ultimately approved, and went into effect immediately. Following the meeting, Wahl released a statement, further condemning the teachers unions as “left wing groups” that “have lost touch with the values of the American people.”

“Transgender ideology and other woke policies have no place in our schools, period,” he said.

In a statement last week about the proposed ban, the AEA called Wahl’s assertions about the group baseless.

“The “A” in AEA stands for Alabama – and we take pride in Alabama’s values,” Executive Director Amy Marlowe said. “Our voluntary membership comprises almost 90,000 Alabamians, with 72% identifying as conservative Republican voters. AEA prioritizes all education employees working to teach children in Alabama’s local schools. Our focus is on education with no partisan perspective or fringe ideologies.”

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