Wash. State AG's Office Fined in Union-Fee Affair

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Eight months after fining the state's largest teachers' union for campaign-finance violations, the Washington state attorney general's office has been fined for allegedly dragging its feet in releasing information about the affair.

The penalty is only the latest fallout from the "paycheck protection" initiative Washington voters passed in 1992. It requires unions to get individual members' annual permission before having money deducted from their wages to pay for political contributions.

State officials later accused the Washington Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, of circumventing the law by setting up a fund that acted as a political action committee but which the union did not register as a PAC with the state.

Attorney General Christine O. Gregoire, a Democrat who had taken political contributions of her own from the union, eventu ally sued the WEA. The union agreed last winter to a $430,000 settlement in the case. ("Wash. Union Fined, Agrees To Give Refunds," March 11, 1998.)

Penalty Questioned

But the Olympia-based Evergreen Freedom Foundation, the conservative think tank which called for the state inquiry, argued that the agreement still allows the union to use its members' dues for political activities without their permission. Seeking information about how the settlement was reached, it asked the attorney general's office for copies of related documents.

Although Ms. Gregoire's office argued that releasing many of the papers would violate attorney-client privilege, a Thurston County Superior Court judge ordered the state to hand over some, though not all, of the documents.

But the Evergreen Freedom Foundation complained that the attorney general's office released some of the papers after the court's deadline. The court last month ordered Ms. Gregoire's office to pay $33,000 in penalties and lawyers' fees to Evergreen. The state has two more weeks to decide whether to appeal.

"What we do know is that the WEA essentially ended up writing the settlement agreement, and that's very disturbing," charged Lea Conner, a spokeswoman for Evergreen.

The state contests that conclusion. "The WEA did not, in any way, shape, or form dictate the terms of the settlement to us," said Chip Holcomb, a senior counsel in the attorney general's office.

Vol. 18, Issue 14, Page 20

Published in Print: November 25, 1998, as Wash. State AG's Office Fined in Union-Fee Affair
Web Resources
  • Read the text of the settlement between the Washington state attorney general's office and the Washington Education Association, as well as the original complaint filed against the union, from the attorney general's Web site.
  • The Washington Education Association Web site includes the organization's statement on the settlement.
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