- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Earlier this month, news reports revealed that the Labor Department has been engaged in an investigation into the political expenditures by the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest union. The investigation began in April 2002, shortly after Landmark Legal Foundation filed its complaint, which documented that the NEA had spent tens of millions of dollars on political activity since 1994. The union, however, has failed to disclose any of those political expenditures in its annual LM-2 filing with the Labor Department.

It has been impossible for the Labor Department and any of the NEA’s 2.7 million members to “determine from the NEA’s LM-2s for any years since at least 1994 that the union has allocated any resources for political purposes,” Landmark has said.

What makes such a situation unacceptable is the explicit acknowledgement by NEA General Counsel Robert Chanin that the NEA pursues a robust political agenda. Indeed, in a speech before the National Council of State Education Associations, Mr. Chanin bragged about the NEA’s “political power and effectiveness at all levels.” He also asserted that the national union and its affiliates “have the ability to help implement the type of liberal social and economic agenda that [our opponents] find unacceptable.”

Mr. Chanin’s chief adversary has been Landmark President Mark R. Levin, who has spent the last several years working to require greater accountability from the NEA. Yet, as Mr. Levin has declared on numerous occasions, Landmark isn’t at all concerned about the NEA exercising its political power — as long as it does so within the rules that govern tax-exempt organizations. While the NEA is entitled to spend members’ dues on political activity, it is required by federal law to pay taxes on those political expenditures. That might explain why the NEA has been so reluctant to reveal the cost of its extensive political activities, which are spearheaded by its 1,800 UniServ directors.

Operating in virtually every congressional district, UniServ directors are required, according to union documents unearthed by Landmark, to engage in “developing and/or executing local association political action.” The NEA spends more than $75 million annually to fund UniServ activities. But it has refused since at least 1994 to acknowledge on its annual Form 990 tax returns that even a dollar of those expenditures have been politically related. After receiving extensively documented complaints from Landmark, the IRS last year launched an audit of the NEA’s finances.

If the investigations bring about the transparency and accountability that have been lacking for decades throughout the union movement, they will have performed a great service, not only to the millions of dues-paying union members but to all taxpayers, who, it is hoped, will no longer be required to subsidize the political activities of Big Labor bosses.

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