- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Two House members have asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the National Education Association's political campaign expenditures.

Republican Reps. Charlie Norwood of Georgia and John Culberson of Texas sent a letter last week to the IRS's commissioners demanding they look into whether the nation's largest teacher's union uses its general treasury funds instead of its political action committee (PAC) fund to support political campaigns.

Furthermore, the NEA's tax returns related to its general fund do not report the money used for political purposes, the congressmen say.

Spending general treasury funds, which includes tax-exempt dues and fees from teachers, on political activities, and not reporting such expenditures on tax returns, violates the Internal Revenue Code, the congressmen contend.

"As this matter involves the allocation of millions of dollars of tax-exempt membership dues and agency fees for the purpose of influencing the electoral process, we would have thought the IRS would have taken some effective action by now," the two congressmen wrote in the July 1 letter.

"We must strongly encourage the IRS to initiate an investigation into the NEA's practices to ensure the integrity of the electoral process and the enforcement of federal tax law," the letter said.

Officials with the NEA, which represents 2.7 million teachers and staff members, did not return a telephone call seeking comment yesterday.

According to the congressmen's letter to the IRS, NEA general counsel Robert Chanin acknowledged at a June 20 congressional hearing that evidence of political expenditures given to the subcommittee by the Landmark Legal Foundation, a conservative public-interest law firm, were made from the union's general treasury funds, not from its PAC.

Mr. Chanin said those expenditures were used exclusively to communicate with NEA members and to support PAC administrative activities.

The congressmen disagree.

"The documentary evidence provided by Landmark to this subcommittee, including the language in the NEA's own records and the huge sums of money the NEA is expending on its political activities, suggests otherwise," they said in their letter.

The IRS, which yesterday declined to comment on the letter, has yet to respond to the congressmen's request for an investigation.

The letter came two weeks after Mr. Norwood, who also is the chairman of the House Education Committee subcommittee on workforce protection, held the June 20 hearing to determine whether labor unions like the NEA violated the Internal Revenue Code by spending general treasury money on political activities and failing to report those expenditures on tax returns.

The subcommittee on workforce protection heard testimony from officials with the NEA and representatives from Landmark, which has filed at least five complaints against the union with several government agencies since 1994.

In its complaints, the foundation said the NEA did not report on its filings with the Labor Department 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, 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.

By law, a labor organization can engage directly in political activity if it fully accounts for political expenditures and activities and reports them to the IRS as taxable income.

For example, 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.

Another $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 the complaints.

The foundation submitted its complaints and documentation of the NEA's tax returns to the subcommittee, an action that resulted in the congressmen's call for an investigation.

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