- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 16, 2002

For several years, there has been much hysteria about how soft money has corrupted the political process. Democrats, self-serving media organizations and Sen. John McCain (the Keating Five-tainted presidential aspirant whose campaign was trounced by George W. Bush) have been shedding crocodile tears over soft money. As it happens, during the 1999-2000 electoral cycle, each of the two major political parties raised about $250 million in soft money from corporations, unions and individuals. Every dime of those evenly divided soft-money donations was publicly disclosed. Any interested voter was free to make his own informed judgment about the source and the size of the soft-money contributions the parties received.

The real scandal involving soft money, however, relates to the fact that labor unions have been laundering the dues of their members through their union treasuries and into the coffers of the Democratic Party. This, despite the fact that voter-exit polls have revealed that nearly 40 percent of union workers and members of their households have voted for the Republican presidential candidate since 1980. Yet, even this scandal pales in comparison to the hundreds of millions of dollars in indirect and in-kind contributions that labor unions routinely make on behalf of the Democratic Party. These sorts of contributions are, of course, never disclosed. Indeed, labor economist Leo Troy of Rutgers University has testified before Congress that unions regularly spend an estimated $500 million during each two-year cycle to elect Democrats. Yet, only a relatively small portion of these funds specifically, the soft-money donations and the contributions from political action committees (PACs) are disclosed.

The audacious operations of the National Education Association (NEA) demonstrate precisely how scandalous labor's gambit has been. As the Landmark Legal Foundation has meticulously documented in several complaints filed with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission, the nonprofit, tax-exempt NEA has literally spent tens of millions of dollars since 1994 on political operations. Each year, however, according to Form 990 that it is required by the IRS, the Washington-based NEA claims that not a dime of its resources is expended on political matters. Since at least 1994, Form 990's line 81a, where the NEA is required to "[e]nter the amount of political expenditures, direct or indirect," has been blank. Anyone who reviews Landmark's complaints, which are available on its web site (landmarklegal.org), can appreciate how staggering the NEA's annual violations truly are.

While Landmark has concentrated on the NEA's national affiliate, the Heritage Foundation has attempted to review Form 990s filed with the IRS by teachers unions representing the 100 largest, public-school districts and the 50 representing them at the state level. These included affiliates of both the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the other major teachers union.

By law, these NEA and AFT affiliates are required to provide copies of their most recently filed Form 990s to anyone requesting them. In fact, many affiliates refused Heritage's request. Nevertheless, apart from the contributions by their PACs, only two of the 63 Form 990s examined by Heritage reported any "political expenditures, direct or indirect" on line 81a. (National Education of New York and the Hawaii State Teachers Association reported "direct or indirect" political expenditures of $69,272 and $136,285, respectively political spending, if Landmark's review of the NEA's national affiliate is any guide, that is probably drastically understated.) Equally revealing was the fact that those forms showed average-annual-dues income exceeding $4.1 million, while expenditures for collective bargaining a union's principal purpose averaged a mere $103,000.

Once Senate Republicans cast the deciding, filibuster-proof votes to ban soft money, which, in practice, Republicans have used to balance the "under-the-radar" political spending by labor unions on behalf of Democrats, those GOP senators will have nakedly exposed themselves to the loophole-smashing tactics of a labor-Democratic cabal.

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