Leading California’s “billion dollar club” is the California Teachers Association (CTA), the state’s largest teachers association and National Education Association affiliate, according to the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).

In their new report Big Money Talks, the FPPC looks at 15 of the state’s biggest political players, who have spent $1.3 billion combined on political activities in the past decade. “This tsunami of special interest spending drowns out the voices of average voters,” says FPPC chairman Ross Johnson, “and intimidates political opponents and elected officials alike.” The CTA tops the list at $212 million-more than Big Pharma, and also more than Big Oil and Big Tobacco combined.

The CTA spent more than $173 million in the past decade to influence voters. Of that amount, the union’s largest expenditure was more than $26 million in 2000 to defeat a ballot proposition to enact vouchers. The CTA spent another $12 million in the special election of 2005 to defeat a ballot measures that would prohibit the use of public employee union dues for political contributions without individual employees’ prior consent (also known as paycheck protection).

[For a more extensive look at union opposition to education and budget reform efforts, see an article by my Pacific Research Institute colleague Evelyn Stacey and me in today’s Human Events.]

Both of those measures are anathema to teacher-union leaders. Former chief legal counsel for the CTA’s parent organization the NEA Robert Chanin said at the time that requiring teachers’ permission to use their dues for political activity is “a royal pain in the [expletive].” It’s easy to see why: Given the chance, teachers overwhelming opt out of paying for union leaders’ political agendas. After paycheck protection passed, teachers union membership in Utah dropped from 68 percent to 6.8 percent, and from 82 percent to 6 percent in Washington State.

Having a place at the policy debate table is one thing. Stifling dissenting voices is another. Not surprisingly, Big Money authors conclude, “What is good for the people of California matters less than what hurts or helps the individual interests of these groups. …The conclusion is inescapable: A handful of special interests have a disproportionate amount of influence on California elections and public policy.”(See pp. 4 and 5).