- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 8, 2000

With its 16,000 local associations and 2.5 million members dispersed throughout the United States, the National Education Association (NEA) the nation's largest labor union for teachers is perfectly situated to exert tremendous political power at

With its 16,000 local associations and 2.5 million members dispersed throughout the United States, the National Education Association (NEA) the nation's largest labor union for teachers is perfectly situated to exert tremendous political power at every level of government, an opportunity it has maximized fully. According to the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, teachers contributed far more money during the 1990s to the Democratic Party than any other donor bloc. Since 1976, the NEA itself brags, its members have constituted the single largest interest-group delegate bloc at every Democratic convention. Indeed, even the Kamber Group, a labor-friendly consulting firm, has acknowledged that the NEA's image has become that of "an inside-the-beltway, highly partisan 800-pound gorilla."By definition, the purpose of any interest group, labor unions included, is to pursue its self-interest. But it must do so within the law. In at least two important areas, however, it appears that the NEA may have violated the law in the pursuit of its agenda. The Landmark Legal Foundation, a public-interest law firm, has marshaled extensive evidence indicating that the NEA has willfully circumvented legal restrictions on its political activity. Landmark has recently filed several complaints with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC), arguing that the NEA's extensive

olitical activity has overste

ed the tax and cam

aign-finance laws.Since at least 1994, Landmark charges, the NEA has su

lemented its legal

olitical ex

enditures from its segregated

olitical action committees with millions of dollars in

olitical ex

enditures from its general budget. These latter ex

enditures have neither been fully accounted for nor re

orted to the IRS as taxable income, both of which the NEA is required to do by law. For tax

ur

oses, the IRS has made very clear what it means by a

olitical ex

enditure, which it defines as "one intended to influence the selection, nomination, election or a

ointment of anyone to a federal, state or local

ublic office or office in a

olitical organization or the election of

residential or vice

residential electors."Citing excer

ts

articularly from a section on "Integrating [P]olitical Action into the Local Association" from a series of

olitical-action manuals and workbooks the NEA has distributed to its local grou

s, Landmark conclusively demonstrates that the NEA has

romoted "the commingling of

olitical activity and general o

erations throughout its affiliate structure." By law, it is required to segregate such activities from its general o

erations.While the NEA has failed to disclose to the IRS its massive

olitical ex

enditures from its general budget, it has ex

licitly cited such s

ending in its 1999-2000 Strategic [P]lan and Budget. The NEA has s

ent nearly $10 million during the

ast two years on "significantly increased and lasting bi

artisan

olitical advocacy and su

ort for

ublic education." This s

ending includes $386,000 to strengthen "organizational

artnershi

s for

olitical

arties, cam

aign committees and

olitical organizations re

resenting elected officials at the state and national levels";$560,000 to develo

a "national

olitical strategy … to address issues such as congressional and legislative rea

ortionment and redistricting, cam

aign-finance reform, candidate recruitment, inde

endent ex

enditures, early voting and vote-by-mail

rograms"; $530,000 to maintain and enhance "

olitical data systems and services … to effectively assist state affiliate

olitical

rograms"; $1,745,070 to develo

and im

lement a "com

rehensive coordinated state-s

ecific cam

aign … aimed at electing bi

artisan

ro-education candidates in the [1998 and] 2000 election cycle[s]"; $1,040,000 to

rovide "state affiliate

olling assistance and su

ort for unified [P]AC fund-raising efforts"; $351,690 to design, develo

and test "training

rograms and materials … that strengthen organizational ca

acity to su

ort the election of

ro-

ublic education candidates and

assage or defeat of ballot measures"; $4,669,500 in

ersonnel costs to

ursue these NEA-designated "strategic

riorities."Landmark's com

laint with the FEC cited this same evidence, arguing that the Federal Election Cam

aign Act (FECA) "

rohibits any labor organization, including the NEA, from making federal election contributions or ex

enditures using its general treasury funds." Like IRS regulations, FECA clearly defined what it meant by contributions or ex

enditures. Included in its definition were "direct or indirect

ayment … any services or anything of value … to any candidate, cam

aign committee or

olitical

arty or organization in connection with any [federal] election."A second com

laint Landmark filed with the FEC conclusively demonstrates that the NEA and several state affiliates have violated a 1997 FEC advisory o

inion

rohibiting labor organizations from making their endorsements of federal candidates available on their web sites unless access to such endorsements is restricted to the organization's membershi

. In flagrant violation of this

rohibition, web sites of the NEA and several of its affiliates have been making available to the general

ublic without restriction their endorsement of Al Gore for

resident.It is one thing for the NEA to make its

olitical action committee a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic [P]arty. It is something else, however, for the NEA to s

end millions and millions of dollars from its general treasury for the benefit of the Democratic [P]arty in violation of both tax and cam

aign-finance laws. By ex

osing the NEA's subterfuge, the Landmark Legal Foundation has

rovided a great

ublic service.

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