Fewer Republicans Get N.E.A. Endorsement, PAC Funds
Washington--Despite its fence-mending with the Republican Party two months ago, the National Education Association has endorsed fewer gop Congressional candidates than in 1984 and 1986 and focused a record level of campaign support on Democrats this fall.
The nea endorsed 26 Republican and 311 Democratic candidates for Congress this year, union officials said last week, compared with 40 Republicans and 342 Democrats in 1986 and 30 Republicans and 295 Democrats in 1984.
Through its political-action committee, called nea\pac, the union will contribute more than $3.3 million to federal candidates, mainly Democrats, and to the Democratic National Committee, according to Ivette Torres, an nea spokesman. That amount is about $1 million more than the pac contributed in 1986.
The nea's political fundraising arm is among the largest in the country, ranked at the top with those of the American Medical Association and the National Realtors Association.
The political-action war chest of the American Federation of Teachers also reached a record level of $1.2 million this year, aft officials said. As of last week, however, the union was unable to provide figures on the distribution of its House and Senate endorsements.
James M. Campbell, chairman of the nea's Republican Educators Caucus, said he was taken aback by the decline in the number of Republicans endorsed by his union this election year.
"I'm really surprised it's that low because I had the distinct impression we were endorsing more Republicans," said Mr. Campbell, who also serves as president of the Utah Education Association.
Noting that some 600,000 of the union's 1.9 million members report they are Republicans, Mr. Campbell said the lack of Republican endorsements indicates that the nea needs to work more closely with those gop officeholders elected in November to increase support for nea-backed issues.
As an alternative, he said, the union needs to recruit Republican candidates who are sympathetic to education causes.
"Our ultimate goal is to do what's best for education, and I believe you can do that by working with both parties," said Mr. Campbell, who was among the 40 nea members who served as delegates to the 1988 Republican convention.
At that gathering, for the first time in nea history, the union hosted a convention event--a luncheon honoring Maureen Reagan, the President's daughter and co-chairman of the Republican National Committee. And Mary Hatwood Futrell, the nea president, was invited to sit with Ms. Reagan during an evening session.
These developments signaled, according to Mr. Campbell, that Republicans should not dismiss the nea as "a Democratic, left-wing organization."
Voting Records Examined
Kenneth F. Melley, the nea's director of governmental relations, said there was no specific reason for the decline in the number of Republicans endorsed by the teachers' union other than their lack of support on issues of interest to the union.
"We use the same criteria for endorsing candidates, regardless of their party," said Mr. Melley. "It just so happens an overwhelming number of Democrats concur with issues we consider important."
In the case of incumbents, union officials decide on endorsements on the basis of a legislative scorecard detailing how the candidates voted on certain key issues.
This year, those include votes on budget resolutions and spending authorizations, as well as the vote to override President Reagan's veto of the Civil Rights Restoration Act and the Senate's vote on Robert Bork as a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Incumbents who support nea positions at least 80 percent of the time usually receive the association's endorsement, according to Mr. Melley.
"The distinguishing characteristic is the appropriate role of the federal government in education," he explained. "Generally speaking, we believe there is a role to be played by the federal government. That is the point of distinction separating Democrats and Republicans."
On the other hand, he said, the nea strongly supports Senator Robert T. Stafford of Vermont, a Republican with an interest in child-care and education legislation, while it opposes Senator Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina, who votes against such legislation.
"[Helms] would rather have the federal government supporting tobacco farms as an appropriate federal role," Mr. Melley said. "His interests are the tobacco constituency and our interests are the education constituency."
Commenting on Mr. Campbell's suggestion that nea needed to work harder to improve its communications with Republicans, Mr. Melley noted that the group "communicates with all members of Congress" about its issues.
Big Party Contributions
Both the nea and the aft have endorsed three Republican candidates for the Senate: incumbents John Heinz of Pennsylvania and Lowell P. Weicker Jr. of Connecticut, as well as Representative James M. Jeffords of Vermont, who is seeking the seat being vacated by Mr. Stafford.
"Our push is to save our friends and it shakes down to three Republicans who have good records," said Rachelle Horowitz, the aft's political director. All three are considered moderates or liberals.
Both unions also endorsed Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts in the Presidential race, but Mr. Dukakis does not accept contributions from political-action committees.
The aft, however, has contributed $15,000 to the Democratic National Committee, the campaign arm of the party, for election use and $150,000 for its ongoing operations, an area that is not covered by federal limits on campaign gifts.
The nea contributed $10,000 to the Democratic National Committee, as well as unspecified "in-kind" support for its operations.