The Inflation Reduction Act includes $80 billion in new funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), along with hiring thousands of new employees. Biden administration officials say the funds will go toward enforcement efforts directed at the wealthy and large corporations. How about looking at powerful tax-exempt organizations such as labor unions?
In the past, one of the largest unions, the National Education Association (NEA), played fast and loose with its political reporting to the IRS. NEA’s failures led to an IRS audit. Today, another teacher’s union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), appears to be doing something similar. If the IRS is serious about increasing enforcement of the tax laws, it should task a few of the thousands of new hires to look at the activities and tax filings of one of the largest labor unions in the country.
It’s no secret that the 1.6 million member AFT is active in politics. During recent election cycles, AFT President Randi Weingarten went into full political activist mode — going door to door campaigning for candidates who support AFT’s radical agenda and leading countless events for candidates. Weingarten’s Twitter feed is full of hundreds of tweets documenting the many election-related activities apparently sponsored by AFT. Everything from political rallies to phone banks to meetings with former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton or Vice President Kamala Harris is on display.
In 2020, AFT sponsored a “nationwide get-out-the-vote bus tour to stop Trump, Elect Biden and Harris.” This tour featured political rallies in dozens of states with powerful Democratic candidates and Democrat-affiliated interest groups. According to AFT’s own materials, the bus tour promoted and used “all of the AFT’s election outreach strategies” to engage “members, friends and family through peer-to-peer texting, phone banking and the popular AFTvotes app.” The bus tour functioned as a roving political machine designed to elect Joe Biden and defeat Donald Trump.
Doesn’t Engage in Politics?
There’s a major catch to all of this — if you look at AFT’s tax returns, you wouldn’t have any indication that AFT spends a single dollar on politics. As a tax-exempt labor union, AFT must disclose on its annual tax return whether it spends any of its general treasury funds (mainly obtained through membership dues) on “direct” or “indirect” political activities. Money spent on “direct” political activities (expenditures designed to influence the election or defeat of an identified political candidate) must be reported and is subject to taxation. AFT says on its tax returns, however, that it doesn’t engage in politics.
How is this possible? Peer-level unions such as the NEA or the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) both report that they spend money on politics. NEA’s 2018 tax return reports more than $6 million in political campaign activities. SEIU’s 2018 tax return reported that it expended more than $16 million in direct or indirect political campaign activities. According to AFT’s tax returns, it spends zero dollars on politics and does not engage in political activities.
Call for Investigation
Landmark Legal Foundation has filed a complaint with the IRS, calling for an investigation. AFT responded by stating that all of its political activities are conducted through its 527 organization, called AFT Solidarity. But AFT Solidarity’s disclosure reports don’t account for the weeks of time Weingarten devoted to campaigning for Biden and Harris. AFT Solidarity’s disclosure reports don’t appear to account for the expenses incurred in sponsoring bus tours, political rallies, get-out-the-vote drives, and door-to-door campaigning. Finally, AFT’s tax returns don’t even acknowledge the existence of AFT Solidarity.
Maybe some of these new IRS agents can uncover answers to these questions. Perhaps a meager portion of the $80 billion in new money can be allocated to determine whether AFT is complying with the law. AFT members have a right to know how their dues are being spent and the public has a right to know whether one of the most powerful and influential labor unions, collecting roughly $200 million annually, is dodging its obligations.