- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 9, 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 political activity has overstepped the tax and campaign-finance laws.

Since at least 1994, Landmark charges, the NEA has supplemented its legal political expenditures from its segregated political action committees with millions of dollars in political expenditures from its general budget. These latter expenditures have neither been fully accounted for nor reported to the IRS as taxable income, both of which the NEA is required to do by law. For tax purposes, the IRS has made very clear what it means by a political expenditure, which it defines as "one intended to influence the selection, nomination, election or appointment of anyone to a federal, state or local public office or office in a political organization or the election of presidential or vice presidential electors."

Citing excerpts particularly from a section on "Integrating Political Action into the Local Association" from a series of political-action manuals and workbooks the NEA has distributed to its local groups, Landmark conclusively demonstrates that the NEA has promoted "the commingling of political activity and general operations throughout its affiliate structure." By law, it is required to segregate such activities from its general operations.

While the NEA has failed to disclose to the IRS its massive political expenditures from its general budget, it has explicitly cited such spending in its 1999-2000 Strategic Plan and Budget. The NEA has spent nearly $10 million during the past two years on "significantly increased and lasting bipartisan political advocacy and support for public education." This spending includes $386,000 to strengthen "organizational partnerships for political parties, campaign committees and political organizations representing elected officials at the state and national levels";$560,000 to develop a "national political strategy … to address issues such as congressional and legislative reapportionment and redistricting, campaign-finance reform, candidate recruitment, independent expenditures, early voting and vote-by-mail programs"; $530,000 to maintain and enhance "political data systems and services … to effectively assist state affiliate political programs"; $1,745,070 to develop and implement a "comprehensive coordinated state-specific campaign … aimed at electing bipartisan pro-education candidates in the [1998 and] 2000 election cycle[s]"; $1,040,000 to provide "state affiliate polling assistance and support for unified PAC fund-raising efforts"; $351,690 to design, develop and test "training programs and materials … that strengthen organizational capacity to support the election of pro-public education candidates and passage or defeat of ballot measures"; $4,669,500 in personnel costs to pursue these NEA-designated "strategic priorities."

Landmark's complaint with the FEC cited this same evidence, arguing that the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) "prohibits any labor organization, including the NEA, from making federal election contributions or expenditures using its general treasury funds." Like IRS regulations, FECA clearly defined what it meant by contributions or expenditures. Included in its definition were "direct or indirect payment … any services or anything of value … to any candidate, campaign committee or political party or organization in connection with any [federal] election."

A second complaint Landmark filed with the FEC conclusively demonstrates that the NEA and several state affiliates have violated a 1997 FEC advisory opinion prohibiting 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 membership. In flagrant violation of this prohibition, web sites of the NEA and several of its affiliates have been making available to the general public without restriction their endorsement of Al Gore for president.

It is one thing for the NEA to make its political action committee a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party. It is something else, however, for the NEA to spend millions and millions of dollars from its general treasury for the benefit of the Democratic Party in violation of both tax and campaign-finance laws. By exposing the NEA's subterfuge, the Landmark Legal Foundation has provided a great public service.

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