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Education Reporter

NEA Flexes its Political Muscle
The NEA announced its thousand-dollar subsidies given to each NEA member who is elected a delegate to the Democratic National Convention: a grant of $400 in cash, $400 in merchandise, plus air travel expense. The NEA will have more delegates at the Democratic National Convention than any state. Similar subsidies would be given to NEA delegates to the Republican National Convention, if there are any.

Based on figures from four and eight years ago, one in every eight delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be a member of the NEA or the AFT (American Federation of Teachers). This is power far in excess of that wielded by any other group or governor.

The National Education Association maintains one of the five largest federal Political Action Committees called NEA-PAC, and it is the third largest donor to Democrats. The NEA gave Democrats 99% of its PAC money in the 1994 elections and can be expected to do likewise in 1996.

Cash donations from the federal NEA-PAC are supplemented by cash donations from state and local NEA PACs, and also by the so-called "volunteers" whom the NEA assigns to work for Democratic candidates. The NEA spends $39 million a year on 1,500 field organizers to promote its goals.

The NEA-PAC is not bashful about tooting its own horn. Its handouts distributed at the 1996 convention boast that it is "education's most powerful voice in Washington." NEA-PAC brags that it is responsible, among other things, for creating the U.S. Department of Education, passing Goals 2000, and stopping the Senate from approving vouchers.

The NEA shows its political muscle by the way it is able to hang on to its own corporate welfare. By an accident of history, the NEA has a special property-tax exemption for its headquarters building in Washington, D.C. This exemption, worth $1.6 million a year, is a financial privilege not enjoyed by any other union.

Last October, Congress tried to remove this quirk in the law, but failed by a vote of 213-210. Of the House members who had received political contributions from the NEA in the 1994 elections, 173 out of 176 voted to keep the tax break.

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