- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2002

A conservative policy group in Washington state has filed a complaint against the National Education Association, charging that the nation's largest teachers labor union violated the state's campaign finance laws.
The Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF), representing several teachers in the action, accuses the NEA of operating an "illegal [and] unregistered" political action committee and illegally spending money taken from teachers who are not committee members on politics without first getting their authorization, as required by state law.
The foundation also claims the NEA violates the First Amendment rights of teachers when it, without informing its members, deducts from their yearly dues a $5 special assessment fee, which funds the union's political activity.
The deduction, the group claims, violates the state's Public Disclosure Act, which states that no employer responsible for the disbursement of wages or salaries may withhold or divert a portion of the funds for contributions to political committees without the written request of the employee.
"This is all about protecting teacher's paychecks," said Jami Lund, project manager at the EFF, an Olympia-based policy research organization. "It's about stopping these union officials from taking advantage of mandatory dues. …"
Washington state teachers pay an average of $683 in total annual dues. They pay $126 to the NEA (including the $5 assessment fee); $307 to the NEA's state chapter, the Washington Education Association (WEA); and another $250 to UniServ and local school district education associations, whose staffs are responsible for collective bargaining, according to EFF documents.
The five-page complaint was submitted to state's Attorney General Christine Gregoire.
A spokesman for Mrs. Gregoire said last week that her office has forwarded the foundation's complaint to the state's Public Disclosure Commission, the agency charged with reviewing issues relating to the state's campaign finance laws. "The matter is under review as the commission considers whether appropriate action should be taken," spokesman Gary Larson said.
A hearing on the complaint is expected April 9.
NEA officials in Washington, D.C., referred all calls regarding the complaint to the WEA. WEA communications director Debra Carnes confirmed that the state's disclosure commission is reviewing the case but declined to comment any further. "We will wait to see what happens on April 9," Miss Carnes said.
The Washington state case is the latest in a string of complaints that have been filed against the NEA in recent years. The association represents 2.6 million educators nationwide.
The Virginia-based Landmark Legal Foundation has filed several complaints against the NEA with the Internal Revenue Service.
Landmark claims that the NEA and its state chapters have violated their tax-exempt status consistently by engaging in politics and campaign coordination activities with the Democratic National Committee.
Landmark says that since a 1994 complaint to the IRS, 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 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 Landmark records.
In a written statement released Friday, NEA officials defended the organization from the foundation's charges of impropriety.
"The NEA consistently complies with all reporting and disclosure requirements of the IRS, FEC (Federal Election Commission), and the U.S. Labor Department, and, therefore, NEA is consistently found in compliance," said Rebecca Fleischauer, a union spokeswoman.
"This is more of a Landmark public relations stunt than a legal issue. Landmark has never been able to produce a credible legal case, so in desperation [they] resort to finding a willing media outlet to give their bogus complaints attention," Ms. Fleischauer said. "As our IRS and FEC reports clearly indicate, NEA does not use dues dollars for political activity. Any money spent on politics is made of voluntary contributions, raised through NEA's Fund for Children and Public Education."
The EFF's complaint in Washington state comes after a court ordered the WEA to refund a portion of the mandatory fees to 4,000 Washington state teachers who are not WEA members, finding that the union illegally spent their money on political activity. The NEA was not a party in that lawsuit.


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