from The Wall Street Journal

Teacher's Pets

William McGurn
Thursday, August 2, 2001


Secret documents show that the National Education Association has become the Democratic Party.

Those of us who have long dismissed the National Education Association as a tool of the Democratic Party have been badly mistaken. Apparently it's just the opposite. As documents now sealed under a judge's order indicate, it's the Democratic Party that is the tool of the NEA.

That, at least, is the gist of a report from the Federal Election Commission, all the more tantalizing because the object of its investigation was not the NEA but the AFL-CIO. Yet the NEA's name surfaces again and again as one of those organizations that, in return for financial contributions, were given seats on campaign committees in 1996 as well as the right to approve or reject the Democratic agenda.

This would be riveting enough on its own. But the Landmark Legal Foundation adds a point that puts it in fascinating context: All the while the NEA was sitting on these committees and financing these Democratic campaigns, it was listing zero dollars for political expenditures on its tax forms.

"Imagine the outrage if it emerged that the Republican National Committee had given HMOs and the oil companies a veto over the Republican Party platform in exchange for contributions," says Landmark President Mark Levin. "But here you have the largest union in the country apparently doing it with tax-exempt dollars and then turning around and telling the IRS they're spending nothing on politics."

This integration of the NEA into the Democratic Party goes a long way toward explaining how a monopoly that today leaves nearly two-thirds of African-American and Hispanic fourth-graders illiterate has insulated itself against political accountability. It helps explain too why George W. Bush gutted the key reform of his education package, a tepid voucher provision for failing public schools, understanding as he did that the NEA would never permit Democrats to sign on to it. Thanks to these new documents, we know that this is not simply because the NEA happens to be influential in the Democratic Party. It's because the NEA—with 16,000 local offices—has in some respects become the Democratic Party.

The history of these documents themselves hint at the scandal behind them. Earlier this month, in response to a request from the Democratic National Committee and the AFL-CIO, they were sealed by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler. Fortunately, Landmark had already snapped them up during an all-too-brief, four-day window back in May, when the FEC had made them public. Had Landmark not grabbed these papers in time, the degree of intimacy between the NEA and the Democratic Party would remain secret.

—::—

So what do these FEC documents show? They show that in spite of NEA President Bob Chase's ritual invocations of "bipartisanship," when it comes to political campaigns the NEA has lashed itself firmly to the donkey's tail:

• A response to an FEC subpoena written on the DNC's letterhead confirms that there indeed existed in 1995-96 a "National Coordinated Campaign Steering Committee," which met at DNC headquarters and "normally included" the NEA.

The Clinton/Gore '96 Primary Committee defines this coordinated campaign as "the project of the state parties to register and turn out Democratic voters on behalf of the entire Democratic ticket in the general election."

• In response to another subpoena, a lawyer for Project '95/'96 defined it as a "coalition of labor unions, environmental, senior and public interest organizations" formed in wake of the Republican takeover of the House to stop Newt Gingrich's Contract with America. An FEC analysis stated the Project was funded by "in-kind contributions" from its "participating organizations," among which was the NEA. Activities included dispatching "field organizers" to Republican districts deemed vulnerable to Democratic takeover in the 1996 elections.

• In North Carolina the president of the state NEA, John Wilson, also served on the Democratic committee that handled day-to-day management of the coordinated campaign. The "Coordinated Plan" lays out the quid pro quo: "When the DNC and its national partners, including . . . the NEA, agree on the contents of a plan, each national partner will give their funding commitment to the state."

• In the prelude to an affidavit filed by Joseph Cullen, Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania's 10th Congressional District, the FEC defined the Coordinated Campaign as "a separate statewide campaign structure within each State Democratic Party, created and financed by Democratic nominees and allied organizations [emphasis added]."

Again, all this emerged in an investigation of the AFL-CIO. What incriminating documents might turn up in an investigation of the NEA itself is anyone's guess.

—::—

The NEA continues to maintain its tax form is correct; there have been no political expenditures as defined by the IRS, notwithstanding statements listed in its own budget priorities that smell an awful lot like the kinds of things described in these Democratic answers to FEC subpoenas. To take but one example, the NEA's strategic plan for 2000 budgets $386,000 in members' dues for "organizational partnerships with political parties, campaign committees and political organizations." Mary Elizabeth Teasley, an NEA official who served on the national steering committee, says that language is "misleading." And she says that though she did serve on the national steering committee, the aforementioned reference to a quid pro quo with specified donations is wrong; she was there only for "informational" purposes. And "every dime" the NEA contributed to any campaign was through a political action committee.

Now, the NEA is perfectly entitled to spend money on politics through its PAC. But that would require the union to list any money transferred to its PACs on line 81 of its Form 990. That would be inconvenient for two reasons: First, the money would be taxable. Second, under the Supreme Court's Beck decision, union members have a right a refund of dues money spent for such purposes. In any event, the NEA's PAC is not mentioned in the subpoenaed documents.

The FEC has opted not to pursue the case against the AFL-CIO, despite its conclusion that Democratic campaigns had granted the AFL-CIO and NEA the "authority to approve or disapprove plans, projects, and needs of the DNC and its state parties." The apparent flip-flop stemmed from a judge's decision in a case involving the Christian Coalition, whose ruling interpreted the First Amendment as setting a higher bar for proving illegal "coordination" of campaign activities.

Yet even if the Constitution permits the NEA to run the Democratic Party outright—as I think it does—this ought not to mean the NEA is free to flout laws about the use of tax-exempt dues for political purposes. For years the great lament over American education has been that no one holds teachers accountable for the fact that "Johnny can't read." The evidence of these documents suggests that might have something to do with the New Math the NEA uses on its tax forms.


Mr. McGurn is The Wall Street Journal's chief editorial writer.
Copyright 2001 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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3 aug 2001