NEA Violated Washington Campaign Finance Law

Published July 1, 2002

On April 8, the Washington Education Association (WEA) launched radio and newspaper ads critical of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation and its president, Bob Williams, who have been the driving force behind the discovery of WEA’s campaign finance violations.

The ad campaign was launched the very day the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) ruled that WEA’s parent, the National Education Association, had also violated state law by donating $500,000 for two state ballot initiatives after failing to properly segregate dues from agency fees.

State law requires that agency fees not be spent for political purposes.

Union dues are withheld from a teacher’s paycheck by the employing school district, which sends the amount to the local union. The local keeps its share and sends the rest to the state WEA, which in turn keeps its share and sends the rest to the national union, the NEA. NEA deposits the money into its general fund, except for a $5 per member assessment for ballot initiatives and public relations. At no level are agency fees disbursed separately from dues.

EFF and the WEA differ in their descriptions of how the various funds were accounted for. But it is not disputed that NEA made up shortfalls in its ballot initiative fund by tapping its general fund. The union cannot, therefore, claim with certainty that agency fees were not used to fund the Washington ballot initiative battles.

The maximum fine the PDC can impose is $2,500, so the next step would have been out-of-court negotiations between the state and NEA to settle on a penalty. That process was halted when the PDC advised the state attorney general not to pursue litigation against NEA if negotiations failed. It would then have been in NEA’s interest to stall or stick to a hard-line position in the negotiations. So EFF decided to file suit itself.

Mike Antonucci is director of The Education Intelligence Agency, which conducts public education research, analysis, and investigations. His weekly Communiqué is available at or from [email protected].