- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 23, 2002

The National Education Association concealed its use of millions of dollars in tax-exempt teachers' dues and fees for political activities, primarily for Democratic candidates and causes, according to a complaint filed yesterday by the Landmark Legal Foundation.
In its complaint to the Labor Department, the foundation claims the NEA the country's largest labor union did not report to its 2.7 million members tax-exempt revenue it spent to recruit and support candidates running for local, state and federal elective office since at least 1994.
Most of the expenditures were coordinated with the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Democratic Party campaign organizations, the AFL-CIO and Emily's List, the nationwide network of political donors helping to elect Democratic pro-choice women, the complaint said.
"The NEA obviously doesn't want America's teachers, parents and taxpayers to know how it is using tax-exempt membership dues and fees," said Mark Levin, the foundation's president. "But federal labor reporting laws require the union to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about its political activities and expenditures."
Mr. Levin said the action violates a federal law that requires labor unions to report their revenues and expenditures annually to the Labor Department. Unions must report their financial activities in enough detail to accurately reflect the union's operations, they say.
NEA officials called the complaint "completely baseless."
"This complaint is without merit," said Kathleen Lyons, a spokeswoman for the union. "NEA is very careful, very meticulous with our paperwork. We follow all the rules and procedures. There is completely no basis for this complaint."
NEA's failure to report the expenditures makes it impossible for its members to determine the full extent of the union's political activities, foundation officials argue. A union and its leaders could be held liable for substantial civil and criminal penalties for violating the labor law.
"The law was enacted to ensure that union members could make informed, responsible decisions about their union's leadership and its activities," Mr. Levin said. "The NEA's leadership spends millions of tax-exempt dollars on political activities ever year, in coordination with the DNC, yet reports none of it on its Labor Department filings."
Yesterday's complaint was the fifth filed by the public interest law firm since the mid-1990s. The foundation filed several complaints with the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.
In the IRS complaints, Landmark claimed that the NEA and its state chapters violated their tax-exempt status consistently by engaging in politics and campaign coordination activities with the Democratic National Committee.
Landmark argued in the complaints that since 1994, the NEA has reported that it has made no such political expenditures on its tax returns. By law, a labor organization is allowed to engage directly in political activity if it fully accounts for political expenditures and activities and reports them to the IRS as taxable income.
In its complaints, the foundation said the NEA's 1998-2000 strategic plan and budget earmarked $350,000 for training programs that strengthen organizational capacity to support elections of pro-public-education candidates.
An additional $540,000 was allocated for developing a "national political strategy" that would address congressional and legislative redistricting, campaign finance reform, candidate recruitment, early voting, and vote-by-mail programs "in order to strengthen support for pro-public education candidates," according to Landmark records.

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