Teacher Union Targets Washington Think Tank

Published April 1, 1999

“The primary purpose or one of the primary purposes [of a political action committee] is to affect government decision making by supporting or opposing candidates or ballot positions.”
Legal definition of a political action committee handed down by the Washington Supreme Court in Washington State v. Evans. [Ref: 86Wn2d 503, 546 P.2d 75 (1976)]

“I have concluded that the overall percentage expenditures of the Association [not spent on political activities] for the 1995_96 school year was 96.85%.”
Olympia Education Association president Gary Brown, in an affidavit responding to the charge that the Washington Education Association is a political action committee. [Ref: Affidavit Declaration of Brown in the matter of the 1996 Agency Fee Arbitration between the Washington Education Association and Representation Challengers.]

“[The Washington Education Association] targeted nine members of the legislature who were particularly punitive towards public education and educational employees. WEA worked hard and successfully defeated eight of those nine members. One of those legislators whom we defeated was Peggy Johnson! . . . We worked hard to boot out the ‘rascals’. . . “
Olympia Education Association president Gary Brown, writing in the Washington Education Association’s regional newsletter.

Facing a trial in May on charges of being a political action committee–and thus in violation of a state paycheck protection law–the Washington Education Association responded with a complaint against its accuser, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF), charging that the think tank is itself a PAC.

As any attorney can attest, one very effective way of deflecting damaging charges is to attack the person making the charges–a strategy that redirects attention away from the accused, dilutes the efforts of the accuser, and is considered by most as a response to the attack.

Using supporting documentation nearly identical to that which he had filed in a previously rejected complaint, Olympia Education Association President Gary Brown on January 15 filed a 45-day legal action with the state Attorney General’s office, claiming EFF is primarily a lobbying and political organization. When the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) decided to proceed with the complaint, EFF president Bob Williams and executive director Lynn Harsh were served with subpoenas asking for copies of personal and organizational information, much of which is off-limits to the PDC by law.

Brown’s legal action will require EFF officials to search through hundreds of discovery documents at the same time they are scheduling dozens of depositions in preparation for the May trial. They view Brown’s “frivolous accusations” as an attempt to derail their trial preparation and “to bully EFF into silence.”

While admitting they are “tired” and that raising money to defend teachers, taxpayers, and themselves is “very difficult,” EFF officials say they will be ready.

At the trial, EFF and Teachers for a Responsible Union will be in court to prove their claim that the WEA itself is a political action committee. WEA’s formal PAC uses its $10,071 in monthly income to contribute only to state legislative candidates. According to EFF’s Jamie Lund, WEA’s general fund–financed by union dues that members are required to pay–is used for the following additional political activities:

  • overhead and expenses to operate the PAC ($82,061 in 1998);
  • contributions to initiative campaigns (at least $80,000 in 1988);
  • staff to plan and implement political agenda (unreported, but historically worth tens of thousands of dollars);
  • campaigns to sway the votes of WEA members (unreported, but worth at least $100,000 in 1996 election);
  • contributions to other organizations that pursue political goals; and
  • funds transferred directly into WEA-PAC (at least $162,225 in 1996).

“If the WEA is found to be a political committee by the court, then WEA officials would have to come clean with teachers and the citizens,” said Lund. Under Washington’s paycheck protection law, the WEA would be required to ask permission before withholding dues money and would have to file reports of its political activities.