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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

New DOL Reporting Form Sheds Fresh Light on Teachers Unions' Political Activism

If you are interested in politics, education and/or transparency in government, you should be reading Mike Antonucci's Education Intelligence Agency web site and the associated blog, Intercepts.

Antonucci has covered the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers for years, providing readers with the most comprehensive and in-depth coverage anywhere. If you doubt that, just mention his name to anybody at NEA or AFT headquarters. After they stop shouting and pounding their fists on the nearest available surface, they will probably ask if you know how Antonucci gets all that inside information about both unions.

Anyway, Antonucci just posted an assessment of the first returns from teachers unions across the country as they file the revised U.S. Department of Labor Form LM-2, aka the Labor Organization Annual Report. You can find these on the DOL web site at: http://www.dol.gov/esa/regs/compliance/olms/rrlo/lmrda.htm.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao had to overcome stiff union opposition when she first proposed to revise the LM-2 so that it actually provides useful and credible information about how unions spend their members' dues money and other revenues. More changes are needed but Antonucci thinks the new form is an excellent start.

In his 10/24 EIA Communique, Antonucci said this about the new LM-2. It's lengthy but well-worth pondering by those who care about these issues:

"The new report is a vast improvement over the old one, with payment amounts and recipients spelled out in exquisite detail. Previously, such payments could be batched together as contributions or fees, with individual recipients remaining anonymous. The new forms make it very clear who is receiving the union's money (though it's not always clear why).
"For example, AFT gave $550,000 last year to the Economic Policy Institute, whose reports tend to support the union's positions on vouchers, charter schools, teacher pay and class size. Other recipients of AFT largesse include the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Alliance for Retired Americans, Americans for Democratic Action, Fair Taxes for All Coalition, and Give Nevadans A Raise, among many more.
"The disaggregated membership numbers also suggest AFT's 'more than 1.3 million members' include an awful lot of people who no longer work in public education, or may have some other asterisk to merit their inclusion.
"AFT reports 695,000 full-time members, 103,000 part-time members, 22,100 one-quarter, contingency or laid-off members, and 8,400 associate members for a grand total of 828,500. The union also has about 33,000 agency fee-payers.
"It may take a few years before the reporting is standardized. AFT Oregon put its 'membership' at 19, which is the number of Oregon locals in the state federation, and gave no figures for individual members.
"Where the reports disappoint the most is in their itemizing of the percentage of time each union officer and employee spends on each of the following activities: 1) representational activities; 2) political activities and lobbying; 3) contributions; 4) general overhead; and 5) administration.
"The LM-2 instructions make it very clear what constitutes political activities and lobbying:
'In this schedule report the labor organization's direct and indirect disbursements to all entities and individuals during the reporting period associated with political disbursements or contributions of money.

'Also report the labor organization's direct and indirect disbursements to all entities and individuals during the reporting period associated with dealing with the executive and legislative branches of Federal, state, and local governments and with independent agencies and staffs to advance the passage or defeat of existing or potential laws or the promulgation or any other action with respect to rules or regulations (including litigation expenses). It does not matter whether the lobbying attempt succeeds.
'Also report any disbursement or contribution that is intended to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of anyone to a Federal, state, or local executive, legislative or judicial public office, or office in a political organization, or the election of Presidential or Vice Presidential electors, and support for or opposition to ballot referenda.

'It does not matter whether the attempt succeeds. Include disbursements for communications with members (or agency fee paying nonmembers) and their families for registration, get-out-the-vote and voter education campaigns, the expenses of establishing, administering and soliciting contributions to union segregated political funds (or PACs), disbursements to political organizations as defined by the IRS in 26 U.S.C. 527, and other political disbursements.'
"So when the form asks for the amount of time spent on political activities and lobbying, it is asking for time spent on any and all of the activities in the above two paragraphs. However, the instructions also state:
'Officers and employees have discretion in determining the allocation of their time. They must only make good faith estimates. No particular records are required to be created. However, if an officer does keep a calendar, for example, the calendar must be retained and made available for examination.'
"Caution! Loophole ahead!
"An examination of the AFT reports shows AFT President Ed McElroy spent 6 percent of his time last year on political activities and lobbying. (It bears mentioning that last year was a Presidential election year.) State federation president estimates of their time on political activities and lobbying ranged from 30 percent (John Cole of the Texas Federation of Teachers) to 3 percent (David Hecker of AFT Michigan) to 2 percent (Debbi Covert of AFT Oregon).
"The Illinois Education Association report is even more suspect. IEA President Anne Davis spent zero percent of her time on political activities and lobbying, and of the union's 225 employees and executives, 213 reported they spent zero percent of their time on political activities and lobbying.
"The new disclosure requirements allow union members and the public to better monitor the activities of these organizations, but there is still some work to be done."

True, but this is definitely more than was known about the super-secretive education unions before Chao insisted on more transparency. There is a lesson here for the Right - transparency can be a devastatingly effective weapon in a democratic political process.