February 12, 1997 - OLYMPIA--The State Attorney General's Office filed suit today against the Washington Education Association alleging multiple violations of Initiative 134, the state's campaign finance law.
"Our investigation shows the WEA clearly failed to provide important campaign finance information that the public had a right to know," said State Attorney General Christine Gregoire. "This suit seeks to enforce the law and bring WEA into compliance."
The teachers' union is charged with failing to correctly report hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions, "loans" and expenditures that were used for political activities. The suit also alleges WEA improperly collected and spent union dues to help finance its political-action committee, WEA-PAC. In addition, the suit charges WEA used its Community Outreach Program as a second political-action committee without properly registering it with the Public Disclosure Commission.
In November, 1992, voters approved Initiative 134, which made significant changes to campaign finance disclosure laws. The Initiative prohibits the practice of using mandatory union payroll deductions for political activities without annual, written reauthorization from each union member. The AG's suit states that WEA attempted to circumvent the reauthorization requirement with the Community Outreach Program which is funded with mandatory dues assessments. The suit contends the outreach program's "primary purpose was to influence the political process by supporting or opposing candidates and ballot measures."
From September, 1994, through August, 1996, COP made contributions to WEA-PAC totaling nearly $252,000. The funds paid overhead and other administrative expenses and enabled WEA-PAC to use money it had received through voluntary payroll deductions on direct contributions to candidates and ballot measures.
The suit also contends COP funds were used for contributions to other political committees and that WEA improperly financed and failed to report approximately $233,000 in contributions to the campaigns to defeat the charter schools and vouchers initiatives.
In addition, the suit claims WEA violated the law by reporting contributions as "loans" instead of donations. In 1994, WEA-PAC reported it received $162,255 in "loans" from WEA. Then, in 1995, it was reported those "loans" had been forgiven. The suit contends the "loans," made from WEA's general fund dues account were, in fact, donations.
The WEA case was initially before the Public Disclosure Commission. In late November, 1996, the PDC ruled the magnitude of the alleged violations warranted penalties greater than the Commission's limit of $2,500 and turned the case over to the Attorney General's Office for possible prosecution. The law allows the AG to seek a maximum penalty of $10,000 for each violation.
In the meantime, WEA independently went to Thurston County Superior Court seeking a declaratory judgment that its Community Outreach Program is not a political committee. Today's AG suit is a counterclaim to that action.
For electronic copies of this release, and complete
text of the AG's suit, visit the AG homepage site at www.atg.wa.gov.