Teacher Union Violating Utah Election Laws, Complaint Alleges

Published March 1, 2005

On December 16, 2004, the education reform group Education Excellence Utah filed a complaint with Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff (R) against the Ballot Fund of the National Education Association (NEA). The complaint alleges the Ballot Fund violated Utah’s campaign finance laws when it funneled money into a 2002 initiative campaign without registering or disclosing its expenditures.

The complaint further alleges the Ballot Fund continues to violate Utah’s Voluntary Contributions Act by illegally diverting member dues into a political fund.

On July 5, 2000, the NEA’s Representative Assembly imposed a “special dues increase to assist affiliates with ballot measures.” That “special dues increase” requires every NEA member, including those in Utah, to pay $5 per year to the Ballot Fund. The Fund’s bylaws require it to spend 60 percent of its monies supporting or opposing state ballot measures.

Opt-Out Unavailable

The NEA informs all of its members of the political purpose of the additional charge. The Utah Education Association informed its members in the August 2004 issue of UEA Action that the $5 charge is a “special dues increase to help state affiliates with ballot measures and legislative crises, and to support national and state affiliate media campaigns to advance the cause of public education.”

However, the Ballot Fund is treated differently from other political funds. Whereas the NEA provides opportunities for its members to opt out of other political funds, the dues solicitation materials provided to members by the union offer no opportunity for members to opt out of the Ballot Fund.

The Ballot Fund collects more than $10 million per year from the union’s 2.7 million members. According to a memo from NEA President Reg Weaver to delegates at the 2004 NEA Representative Assembly, the Ballot Fund has spent $20,392,200 supporting or opposing ballot initiatives across the country since 2000.

In 2002, Utahns for Radioactive Waste Control proposed a ballot initiative that would have increased taxes on companies that dispose of low-level radioactive waste in Utah, from $0.35 per cubic foot disposed to $150 per cubic foot. Because the measure would have directed a substantial portion of the increased tax revenues to public education, the Ballot Fund contributed $323,800 to get it on the ballot.

Utah election law, however, requires any group that “assist[s] in placing a statewide ballot initiative on the ballot” to register with the Elections Office as a “Political Issues Committee” (PIC). The law requires PICs to disclose their expenditures to the Elections Office. The complaint alleges the NEA neither registered nor disclosed its expenditures.

Violations Allegedly Continuing

In addition to alleging past violations of Utah election law, the complaint also alleges the NEA is still violating Utah’s Voluntary Contributions Act (VCA). The VCA requires unions to maintain their political donations in a fund “separate, segregated” from member dues. It also prohibits unions from collecting political contributions via payroll deduction.

The complaint alleges the NEA’s Ballot Fund is a political fund that illegally receives monies from member dues, and also alleges that the fund illegally collects its monies via payroll deduction.

The Landmark Legal Foundation and Evergreen Freedom Foundation filed complaints with the Internal Revenue Service several years ago concerning political activities and reporting of the NEA. The IRS in late 2003 launched an investigation of NEA spending. No results from the probe have been announced.

The NEA had no comment on the complaint.

George A. Clowes ([email protected]) is associate editor of School Reform News.

For more information …

The December 16, 2004 complaint filed by Education Excellence Utah against the National Education Association’s Ballot Fund is available online at http://www.edexutah.org/pdfs/PICComplaintFinalDraft.pdf.