NEA Caught Spending
Members' Dues on Politics
OLYMPIA, WA-The first big union to be caught illegally spending mandatory union deductions on politics will soon be in court, along with its state affiliate.
The Washington State Attorney General was notified on October 2 that "there is reason to believe the National Education Association (NEA) is guilty of laundering at least $400,000 through its state affiliate, the Washington Education Association (WEA), in order to affect the outcome of state elections." In addition to both failing to report and falsely reporting its political activities, the teachers union was accused of obtaining its campaign money from members' mandatory union dues-a violation of Washington state law.
Also cited is the NEA-paid executive director of the WEA, James Seibert, who allegedly falsely reported the identity of his employer on more than 100 separate reports. Early this year, former NEA lobbyist, Kristeen Hanselman, was fined for similar, but less extensive, violations.
Both the NEA and WEA deny their involvement in unreported political activities.
This notification against the NEA was filed by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF), with Attorney General Christine Gregoire. EFF is a public policy institute that has brought previous violations of the WEA to the attention of the Attorney General. Her investigation resulted in the state filing suit against the WEA last February for the largest cam-paign spending violations in state history.
In addition to mounting evidence of the union's political involvement, an internal communication from the 1996 election cycle indicates the extent of the NEA and WEA's coordinated campaign. In this memo, James Seibert stated:
"The initiative and Political Activity Work Teams have developed a comprehensive plan for Campaign '96. The plan includes our organizational effort in every aspect of the November 1996 elections. It is an ambitious plan, re-quiring a significant commitment of Association resources, both financial ($1.5 million) and human (25/30 full time by September). [The word "Association" refers to the membership organization, WEA, not to the political organization, WEA PAC.] This plan has been sub-mitted to the NEA for funding assistance. Later this month, WEA will be making a request to the NEA Executive Committee for approximately $400,000 in additional funding assistance for Campaign '96."
Washington state campaign finance reform was passed in 1992 by initiative with wide bipartisan support (72.9%). Along with disclosure requirements and contribution limitations, the new law requires prior written authorization for all political paycheck deductions. Following its passage, employees consenting to the WEA's political deduction fell from 43,000 to 8,000.
According to Attorney General Gregoire, the union (WEA) attempted "to circumvent the law," "improperly funded" ballot initiatives with mandatory dues, and "severely frustrated the people's right to know" by failing to report "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in political expenditures. No court date has been set for the state's landmark lawsuit.
The case is of great interest to unions across the country. The Washington Labor Council, representing more than 500 unions, has been granted amicus curiae status, allowing it to be present at depositions and to have access to subpoenaed documents.
If Attorney General Gregoire does not add the new charges against the NEA to her pending prosecution of the state affiliate within the 45-day period allotted by state law, the EFF plans to file suit against the NEA.
The WEA and its affiliates, which have an annual budget of approximately $43,000,000 from state school employees, have stepped up their attack against EFF. In August, WEA filed suit against the small Olympia-based institution. In October, two union officials filed complaints against EFF with numerous state and federal agencies.
WEA's intimidation tactics also include publishing the names of EFF's board members in its October ACTION newsletter, which reaches 65,000 public school teachers and employees throughout the state, labeling these members as "enemies of public education." WEA also threatened the United Way for forwarding the contributions of two EFF employees (who had designated EFF as the recipient of their donations).