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Back to November Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 190 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS NOVEMBER 2001

WEA Caught Using Dues for Politics - Again! 
Local watchdog group wants union declared a PAC

"To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical."

Thomas Jefferson
OLYMPIA, WA - For the second time in four years, the Washington Education Association (WEA), the state's NEA affiliate and largest teachers union, has been found guilty of spending non-member dues for political purposes. Thurston County Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor fined the union $400,000 on July 31st for intentionally violating a 1992 state campaign finance reform law prohibiting such spending. The ruling is the result of a complaint filed on behalf of non-union teachers with the state Attorney General's office in June 2000 by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF), a public policy research organization based in Olympia.

The WEA requires that teachers who do not join the union must pay "agency fees" of about $600 per year for collective bargaining and other union benefits. State officials charged that the WEA illegally spent "tens of thousands" of non-member dollars on political action over the past five years after improperly depositing the money into a general fund.

Judge Tabor fined the WEA $200,000, then doubled that amount as a punitive action because the union's violations were proven intentional. He also required that the WEA pay attorneys' fees, investigative costs and court costs. The fine is expected to exceed $500,000, the largest amount ever levied against the WEA.

"WEA officials are used to breaking the law and having their way with teachers' paychecks because they think no one is big enough to stop them," says EFF executive director Lynn Harsh. "Judge Tabor has sent those union officials an expensive reminder that they are not above the law."

In 1998, the WEA paid $430,000 in fines to settle a lawsuit filed by Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire for similar violations of state law. It was one of the largest campaign-finance penalties in state history at the time. (See Education Reporter, December 1997 and October 1998.)

In his July 31st ruling, Judge Tabor found that Washington's Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), which is charged with upholding the state's campaign finance laws, failed to carry out its policing mission. "The PDC clearly did not move decisively to enforce this statute," he noted. "In fact, the PDC acted only when spurred by citizen complaints." Nonetheless, the judge rejected the WEA's defense claims that the PDC did not spell out "what was expected" of the union. "A person speeding down a roadway does not have the right to speed just because a police officer does not make a traffic stop when the opportunity arises," the judge stated.

On October 16, the EFF argued before the Washington Court of Appeals that the WEA "should be declared a political action committee and required to report as one, due to its extensive involvement in Washington elections."

EFF attorney Steven O'Ban stated: "The [state's] Public Disclosure Act requires full and complete disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures. The law was intended to protect fair elections by keeping citizens informed about special interests. The WEA is a powerful political force that operates under the radar."

A decision by the Appeals Court is expected in 30 to 90 days.


 
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