In the rough-and-tumble world of Washington politics, the National Education Association has the muscle to grapple with the strongest competitors, says a poll of capital insiders.
The NEA combines the brawn of 2.3 million members, many of whom are outspoken and politically active, with a war chest of campaign contributions. That combination moved it to the No. 9 ranking of effective lobbying organizations in Fortune magazine's first-ever survey of 329 members of Congress, White House aides, lobbyists, and academics.
"They're a force day in and day out," said Mark Mellman, the Democratic half of the bipartisan polling team that conducted the survey for the magazine's Dec. 8 edition.
The union also has the dollars to back up its grassroots work. Its political-action committee distributed $2.3 million to federal candidates, 99 percent of which went to Democrats, in the 1995-96 election cycle.
But money alone doesn't ensure a ranking in the power elite, Mr. Mellman said. Others in the top five are: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the AFL-cio, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.
"There are a number of bases of power," Mr. Mellman said. "First in order of importance is the ability to generate grassroots activities."
The American Federation of Teachers ranked 38th in the survey.
The AFT's membership is less than half that of the NEA and doesn't cover as many states or congressional districts. Still, the smaller union scored higher than the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Children's Defense Fund, and the American Bar Association.
The final curtain fell last week on the long-running drama known as Piscataway Township v. Taxman.
The Piscataway, N.J., school board last month agreed to a surprise settlement of the bias case filed by Sharon Taxman, the white teacher laid off in 1989 to preserve the job of a black colleague.
On Dec. 2, the two sides filed their formal request to withdraw the case from the U.S. Supreme Court's docket. The court clerk's office processed the paperwork within hours and the case was dismissed. Under the court's procedural rules, the justices do not even need to be bothered when both sides in a case agree to settle.
--DAVID J. HOFF & MARK WALSH