OLYMPIA - February 27, 1998 - State Attorney General Christine Gregoire today announced a $430,000 settlement stemming from multiple campaign finance charges brought against the Washington Education Association.
Under the settlement agreement, WEA will return to its 65,000 members approximately $330,000 for Community Outreach Program dues that the suit alleged were improperly collected and expended for campaign contributions. An $80,000 penalty and $20,000 in costs and attorney fees incurred by the state during the investigation will also be paid.
"By law, voters have a right to know who is contributing to election campaigns," said Gregoire. "WEA failed to fulfill that responsibility and denied voters their right to a complete and accurate disclosure of the union's campaign funding activities."
The AG filed suit against WEA in February 1997 for failing to report thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, "loans" and expenditures that were used for political activities. The case involved several violations of the state's campaign finance laws, including:
- Improper collection and expenditure of mandatory Community Outreach Program dues to help finance WEA's political-action committee, WEA-PAC and other political committees;
- WEA-PAC's improper reporting of $162,225 in contributions from WEA as "loans" which were, in fact, campaign related donations to WEA-PAC; and
- Improper reporting of in-kind contributions from Community Outreach Program to WEA-PAC for administrative expenses and overhead.
The National Education Association is also named in the settlement for violating state law by contributing $410,000 through WEA to the "No on 173/177 Committee." Both WEA and NEA failed to disclose that the national organization was the true source of this contribution to the state ballot measures. As a result, NEA will pay a portion of the $80,000 penalty to the state.
In 1996, the State Public Disclosure Commission ruled the case warranted greater penalties than the $2,500 maximum fine that the PDC could impose and turned the case over to the AG's Office for prosecution.
"The Public Disclosure Commission had grave concerns about the way WEA was funding its political activities when the results of our preliminary investigation were referred to the AG's Office," said Melissa Warheit, PDC executive director. "The Commission believes this resolution well serves the citizens of the state by upholding the campaign finance initiatives approved by the voters. We are especially pleased that money is being returned to WEA members."
When the PDC referred the case to the AG's Office, WEA stopped using funds from its Community Outreach Program for political activities. To address the two years between 1994 and 1996 when mandatory Community Outreach Program dues were spent on political activities WEA will return approximately $330,000 to its members in the form of reduced dues.
To prevent future problems and misunderstandings, the AG's Office and the PDC have provided written guidelines in the settlement addressing the proper use of in-kind and direct contributions to political committees or parties.