- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 6, 2003

With its 16,000 local associations, 2.7 million members and 1,800 politically active UniServ directors, the Washington-headquartered National Education Association (NEA) has been perfectly situated to exert tremendous political power at every level of government. For years, the NEA has taken full advantage of that opportunity, operating as a de facto wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party. While the NEA is fully entitled to pursue its self-interest in the political arena, it must do so within the law. In recent years, however, it has become increasingly apparent that the NEA has not been complying with the federal laws regulating the financing of political activity by tax-exempt organizations.

Late last month, in an interview on Fox News Channel, NEA President Reg Weaver revealed that the IRS informed the teachers’ union in September that it would soon be conducting an audit of its finances.

This is a major development with the potential to be felt throughout the labor movement and political establishment. Inasmuch as other big unions apparently camouflage the financing of their political activity in the same way that the NEA appears to have been doing, the eventual repercussions of the IRS audit of the NEA could be substantial.

The welcome, if belated, IRS intervention would never have occurred without the investigative efforts of the Landmark Legal Foundation, a public-interest law firm, and its hard-charging president, Mark R. Levin. Relying on NEA documents, strategic plans and publicly available Form 990 tax returns, Landmark has meticulously documented how the NEA has repeatedly failed to report to the IRS the tens of millions of dollars it has spent since 1994 from its general treasury on blatantly political activity. While the NEA is entitled to make those expenditures, it is required by federal law to pay taxes on them.

For tax purposes, the IRS has made it very clear what it means by a political expenditure: “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.” In complaints (see www.landmarklegal.org) filed since 2000 with the IRS, the Federal Election Commission, and the Justice and Labor Departments, Landmark has demonstrated conclusively how the NEA has failed to meet its obligation to identify political expenditures and pay taxes on them. To cite just one example among a myriad provided over the years by Landmark, the NEA’s 1998-2000 strategic plan allocated $540,000 for developing a “national political strategy” that would address congressional and legislative redistricting, candidate recruitment, early voting and vote-by-mail programs “in order to strengthen support for pro-public education candidates.”

Mr. Levin has persuasively argued that the NEA’s 1,800 UniServ directors function as “precinct workers.” The NEA itself requires them to engage in “developing and/or executing local association political action.” The UniServ operation represents “the largest army of campaign workers that any organization has,” Mr. Levin has observed. By the time the IRS audit is completed, the NEA deserves to be presented with a hefty bill for back taxes, and if the IRS finds that the NEA’s tax returns were intentionally filed falsely, that raises the serious issue of perjury.

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