Committee Probing Campaign Finances Subpoenas NEA

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A high-profile Senate committee investigating alleged campaign-finance abuses has subpoenaed records from the National Education Association and a raft of other nonprofit organizations.

The Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., is looking into possible illegal campaign expenditures by nonprofit organizations, according to a committee source who declined to be named, and the panel will hold a hearing on the issue.

The hearing will explore whether a group of nonprofit organizations, the Teamsters union, and the AFL-cio--an umbrella organization comprising many unions, including the American Federation of Teachers--illegally coordinated their expenditures for federal campaigns, the source said.

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The hearing has not yet been scheduled, but will take place by the end of the year, the source added.

The 2.2 million-member NEA, the nation's largest teachers' union, was subpoenaed after news reports indicated that the group may have joined with other organizations to coordinate spending and campaign activities in partisan campaigns, which violates federal campaign laws, according to the committee source.

EA officials denied any illegal activities and said they would cooperate with the committee's requests.

"The committee is on a fishing expedition," said Robert Chanin, the general counsel for the NEA. "There is nothing that they have that suggests that NEA or any of the other organizations have engaged in illegal activities."

Under federal election law, the NEA is considered a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization. Legally, it is allowed only to make campaign donations independently.

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The NEA's political action committee gave about $2.3 million in contributions to congressional candidates during the 1995-96 campaign season, and 99 percent of those donations went to Democratic candidates, according to federal election records.

The union also backed President Clinton's re-election effort. ("Teachers' Unions Flex Political Muscles as Election Nears," Oct. 16, 1996.)

Mr. Chanin said that the committee had asked for a "immensely broad" array of campaign-related documents.

The process of collecting the material will be a burden, the union said.

"It's going to require us to do a lot of legwork and investigating," said Richard Wilcof, a staff lawyer for the NEA.

The committee had issued a total of 26 subpoenas in connection with the hearing as of late August.

Democrats on the committee sent subpoenas to 14 nonprofits with GOP and conservative ties, including the Heritage Foundation, the Christian Coalition, and the National Right to Life Committee. Committee Republicans subpoenaed groups traditionally linked with liberal causes or Democratic politics, including the Sierra Club, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Democratic Leadership Council.

Sen. Thompson's committee began hearings this summer focused primarily on allegations of illegal foreign contributions to the 1996 Democratic campaign. It is also looking at alleged Republican fund-raising violations.

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