October 23, 2002
We're the NEA; Laws don't apply to us.
I found an interesting letter in this letter column from the Seattle Times. The letter was from the president of the Washington Education Association, the state affiliate of the NEA, in response to this editorial of last week. It makes for interesting reading. Read the editorial first, to understand why Mr. Hasse is blowing smoke.
A recent ruling by the state Public Disclosure Commission against the National Education Association prompted criticism from The Times ("Policing the NEA," editorial, Oct. 11). NEA members in this state, the teachers, college faculty and school-support professionals represented by the Washington Education Association, believe criticism is more appropriately directed at the PDC.
It is time for policy-makers and thoughtful citizens to examine the role and performance of the commission. Established in 1972 through a voter initiative, the agency was intended to provide public access to information about big money in politics.
Former U.S. Rep. Joleen Unsoeld and the other organizers behind the disclosure initiative trusted an informed public, with the help of an engaged, free press, to make better decisions at the ballot box if they knew who was paying for candidate and ballot measure campaigns. The PDC was not meant to serve, as it now does, as a regulator of speech; the authors knew the risk and folly of any such scheme.
Subsequent to a rewrite of state campaign-finance laws aimed at eliminating the participation of organized labor in the political process, the PDC has been transformed into an agency that the courts have found violates educators' rights to free speech and free association.
Washington's public school employees have a responsibility to speak out for students, schools and our profession. We also have a right to do so, a right that has been treated with indifference by the PDC in its heavy-handed efforts at enforcement. Nonetheless, it is a right we will continue to exercise and guard.
Charles Hasse, president, WEA, Seattle
Where to start? Gee, the WEA believes the criticism should be levelled at the PDC; that's a big surprise. The NEA and its affiliates are NEVER the source of any problems; it's always someone else's fault.
Hasse rails against the PDC because it is fulfilling its mandate, to inform the electorate from where the money to support the projects is coming. The PDC is not responsible for the lawsuits; the PDC reported the egregious violations to the Washington State attorney general's office for prosecution.
The NEA has been a consistent proponent of campaign finance reform; they wish to eliminate the "pernicious" nature of big money in politics. However, when it is their money and influence that is under review, they claim unfair persecution. Apparently, big money in politics is only a problem when it goes to causes opposed by the overwhelmingly Democratic teacher's union leadership. Hasse screams about how the laws violate free speech, yet he and others in NEA leadership positions blithely dismissed (or sneeringly denigrated) similar complaints from conservatives such as Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
Nobody is preventing the NEA from arguing their points of view before the public; what the Seattle Times editorial board specifically stated in their piece is that they only expect the NEA and WEA to follow the same laws as everyone else. If Mr. Hasse feels that is too onerous a burden, perhaps he should reevaluate his efforts. Every other special interest group, from the National Rifle Association to the Natural Resources Defense Council, from NARAL to the American Family Association, has followed the laws. Why should the NEA be exempt?
posted on October 23, 2002 05:25 PM
For some reason, this bugged me a great deal. I think it's the apparent NEA assumption: "Everyone else is a special-interest group, but we're not." A lot of that on the left, it seems to me.