The Ups and Downs of Paycheck Protection

Published September 1, 1998

In 1992, Washington became the first state in the nation to pass a campaign reform initiative, Initiative 134, that required businesses and labor unions to obtain employees’ written consent before money was deducted from their paychecks for political purposes. After the paycheck protection law was implemented, the number of contributors to the Washington Education Association’s PAC fell dramatically: from 48,000 to just 8,000.

According to State Attorney General Christine Gregoire, the WEA responded to the new law with a carefully managed, covert “attempt to circumvent the law,” enabling the union to conduct a successful campaign to defeat two education reform initiatives in 1996.

At the urging of several teachers who were convinced that their union was deducting their money illegally, Bob Williams of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation investigated the teachers’ complaints and uncovered numerous false reports filed by WEA employees. He also gathered evidence of union reporting and funding violations totaling more than $4 million, which he took to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.

After reviewing Williams’ findings, the Public Disclosure Commission referred the case to Gregoire, who in February 1997 initiated a landmark campaign finance suit against the WEA. (See “Wash. Teachers Union Faces Lawsuit,” School Reform News, April 1997.)

But to the dismay of EFF and many concerned teachers, the attorney general settled with the teachers’ union a little more than a year later, in the process agreeing to terms that gutted the state’s paycheck protection law. The settlement, which included a steep fine against WEA for campaign finance violations, also incorporated new guidelines that permitted public sector unions to use members’ mandatory dues for political purposes.

In response, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation and a group of teachers calling themselves Teachers for a Responsible Union have pursued their own lawsuit, filed against the WEA in June 1997. (See “Teachers File Suit Against Wash. Union,” School Reform News, October 1997.) After months of inactivity, the two parties arrived in Thurston County Superior Court on May 1 and presented oral arguments concerning the possible violation of the state’s paycheck protection law by the teachers’ union in its use of general dues for political purposes.

The Superior Court, which ruled it permissible for the union to use general treasury dues for political purposes, also determined that the union is a political action committee. That ruling opens the door to increased scrutiny of the union’s political activism.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

on paycheck protection in Washington state, visit the Evergreen Freedom Foundation’s Web site at The Evergreen Freedom Foundation also may be reached by email at [email protected] or by letter at P.O. Box 552, Olympia, WA 98506.