EXCLUSIVE — A conservative legal group is accusing the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers union, of misreporting funds used on political causes to the IRS and is requesting an audit of the organization.
In a Wednesday letter to the IRS, a copy of which was provided exclusively to the Washington Examiner, the Landmark Legal Foundation requested the tax collection agency investigate the teachers union for allegedly failing to report its expenses related to political advocacy properly on its annual tax forms.
The union, led by President Randi Weingarten, has been a fixture of Democratic Party politics for years. Weingarten often appears with Democratic political candidates at campaign rallies, and the union has a long and well-documented history of supporting liberal causes, along with Democratic politicians and political action committees.
As a 501(c)5 tax-exempt organization, the AFT must annually submit Form 990 to the IRS. The form asks organizations if they have “engage[d] in direct or indirect political campaign activities on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office” with a yes or no answer box.
The union checked “no” in response to the form’s question from 2016 to 2019, according to 990 forms reviewed by the legal group.
“On its four most recent, publicly available tax returns, the AFT reports that it does not use general treasury revenue to fund political activities,” Landmark Legal Foundation said in its letter. “AFT also reports that it made no transfers to any related political organization.”
The complaint to the IRS alleges that Weingarten and the AFT used funds from the “general treasury” to pay for various political activities, including campaigning on behalf of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016, as well as sponsoring an “AFT Votes” bus tour during the 2020 campaign that “mobilized the public to vote for identified candidates for public office.”
“If AFT is using membership dues to finance political activities, the [IRS] should immediately assess applicable taxes and penalties,” the complaint said. “Moreover, agency fee payers and members should not have to finance political activities that they do not support.”
But in a statement to the Washington Examiner, the AFT blasted the complaint, saying it was “sloppy” and “wrong on the facts and without merit.”
“AFT conducts its business through the appropriate accounts, including AFT Solidarity 527, and reports its activities extensively,” the union said. “We are fully transparent about what we spend and why.”
In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Landmark Legal Foundation assistant general counsel Michael O’Neill noted that the AFT’s failure to check “yes” on the 990 form for political donations set it apart from other unions, including the National Education Association and the Service Employees International Union, which all answer “yes” on the form and fill out a required accompanying “Schedule C” form.
“Why does the AFT have all of these political campaign activities directly supporting Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Hillary Clinton, and numerous Democrat candidates? Where does that money come from?” O’Neill said. “This raises important questions that the Internal Revenue Service is in a position to answer. What is really important is the fact that the [AFT] says no on this, whereas other unions say yes.”
The filed complaint comes just weeks after President Joe Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes funding for the IRS to hire an additional 87,000 agents, a fact that Landmark Legal noted in its complaint in urging the agency to investigate.
In June, the Washington Examiner reported that the AFT raked in a record $196 million in 2021 membership fees based on a report from Americans for Fair Treatment, a public sector union watchdog group.
That report indicated that a quarter of the AFT’s 2020-2021 fiscal year spending, at least $49 million, went to politically charged causes, primarily funded through the union’s political action committee: the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education.
AFT Solidarity, a 527 tax-exempt organization, is also used to fund political causes. In 2018, the AFT donated $17.9 million to AFT Solidarity, according to Open Secrets.
Open Secrets likewise found that 98.94% of the AFT’s Committee on Political Education’s donations during the 2020 election cycle went to Democratic candidates, a slight decline from 99.69% in 2016.