The National Education Association (NEA) pumped more than $1 million into 67 mailings for the Kerry-Edwards presidential ticket and against President Bush in the past four months, Federal Election Commission reports show.
Twenty-one NEA mailings in behalf of the Kerry campaign, produced by an Arlington firm whose clients include the Democratic Party, went out to hundreds of thousands of public school employees across the country this month at a cost of $468,333. The union paid for all the mailings from its general operating budget, not its political action committee, the reports show.
Also, the nation’s largest school union contributed about $1.8 million directly to Democratic congressional candidates so far this year, with multiple donations ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 to 208 Democratic incumbents and challengers from April through July, the reports show.
NEA is being audited by the Internal Revenue Service, said Mark R. Levin, president of Virginia-based Landmark Legal Foundation, who said his group is “actively investigating” political spending by the tax-exempt union.
“Despite the fact that the NEA is being audited by the IRS for using its tax-exempt funds for political purposes, it seems that this election cycle it’s spending more than ever,” Mr. Levin said.
NEA officials did not respond to requests for comment.
In a July interview, NEA President Reg Weaver said about one-third of the union’s 2.7 million dues-paying members are Democrats, one-third are Republicans and one-third are independents.
FEC reports show that only four Republican congressional candidates received money from the NEA’s political action committee from April through July — Sens. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Reps. C.W. Bill Young of Florida and Jim Kolbe of Arizona.
The union spent $20,000 for radio ads in Pennsylvania and $69,559 for two statewide direct-mail pieces to help Mr. Specter defeat a conservative Republican primary challenger. An additional $45,000 was spent for NEA direct-mail fliers attacking a conservative primary opponent of Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a liberal Republican from upstate New York.
“We need to look toward spending political action committee funds more equitably between the political parties,” said Diane Lenning, an English teacher from California and past chairman of the NEA Republican Educators Caucus.
“The NEA’s teachers speak of fairness, diversity and free speech. Therefore, we need to look toward equal representation of funds spent among candidates across the country from local to national levels,” Mrs. Lenning said.
“Conservative and moderate teachers cannot afford to continue to sit back complacently and not participate in moving the NEA forward with more fair and equitable representation,” she said.
The union’s political mailings throughout the country, produced by Winning Directions, a campaign firm started by veteran Democratic Party political strategists, coincided with the Kerry campaign’s recent barnstorming in battleground states and a nationwide NEA bus tour to register voters and organize Democratic get-out-the-vote drives.
Since the beginning of October, the NEA’s “Bus Tour for Great Public Schools” has visited Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania at a cost of $50,445 to date, according to the union’s FEC reports.