Soundings

Jay P. Greene
The NEA’s Racket?
Is the nation’s biggest teachers’ union illegally spending tax-free millions on political campaigns?
Summer 2000

The Landmark Legal Foundation has just filed formal complaints against the National Education Association (NEA) with the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission. The complaint asks these agencies "to initiate comprehensive investigations" of the NEA's political activities to determine whether it has run afoul of federal tax and campaign laws.

Landmark claims to have extensive evidence that the nation's largest teachers' union uses tax-exempt general revenue to influence the election of candidates seeking public office. The union neither pays income taxes on this revenue nor reports it to the IRS as the Internal Revenue Code requires, Landmark charges. The last several NEA federal tax returns disclose not one penny spent on politics.

This is absurd, of course. The scale of the NEA's political efforts is in fact astounding. "The NEA spends 10 times as much of its budget on political activity ($34.7 million) as on ensuring excellence in public education ($3.3 million) or improving professional standards and working conditions for all education employees ($3 million)," the Boston Globe recently observed. In late June, the Associated Press reported that the union has budgeted close to $5 million for the 2000 elections. The union spends these vast sums on getting union-friendly politicians elected and defeating any pols brave enough to challenge the nation's monopolistic system of public education.

In an age when we quibble over the meaning of "is," perhaps the NEA will wiggle away from Landmark's challenge. The official comment from the NEA attorney, Richard Wilkof, makes clear that their response to these allegations hinges on legalisms and not necessarily common sense: "It comes down to a legal question. And that is something that we have taken a position on, that we have disclosed everything properly. And that is what we stand by." But the one thing the NEA may have a hard time escaping from is the growing public realization that teachers' unions are really about money and power, not about improving education.

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