|Back to May Ed Reporter|
|NUMBER 196||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||MAY 2002|
|Evergreen Freedom Foundation files suit|
OLYMPIA, WA - The Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF), a public policy research organization founded in 1991, filed a lawsuit against the NEA on April 8 charging the national union with illegally using mandatory fees paid by non-member teachers to influence state elections. A complaint filed by EFF in January on the same grounds was scheduled for an April 11 hearing before the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), but was "set aside" by the PDC due to the litigation.
Last year, the NEA's Washington state affiliate (WEA) was found guilty of breaking the same law, after Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire filed suit against the union based on a complaint by the EFF. The judge found the union's violations "intentional" and ordered it to pay $400,000 in fines, $190,000 in legal fees, and to refund non-member teachers a total of $200,000 in misused dues money.
The PDC also found the union guilty of violations and recommended that the Attorney General seek a settlement with "substantial penalties." At issue is the NEA/WEA's pouring of more than $500,000 into recent Washington state initiative campaigns. However, the PDC further stated that "if a settlement cannot be reached . . . staff do not recommend that the Attorney General proceed with litigation based on the current budget cutbacks and the cost of such litigation."
EFF filed suit against the NEA in response to the PDC's recommendation. "Asking nicely doesn't give the union much incentive to enter a settlement," said EFF President Bob Williams.
Since filing the lawsuit, the EFF has been targeted by the union with radio and newspaper ads attacking its integrity and that of its president. According to The Olympian (4-11-02), the WEA will spend at least $85,000 to run ads ridiculing Bob Williams and charging the foundation with "advocating a number of positions opposed to public education and accepting donations from a number of education-unfriendly conservative groups."
An op-ed column in The Columbian on the same day countered that the WEA and its parent NEA "have continually criticized" EFF "because the fiscally conservative tax watchdog group successfully took up the cause of a handful of state teachers who were sick of paying union dues, only to see a portion of their money devoted to political causes they oppose."