A federal judge ruled here yesterday that a "reverse check-off" procedure used by the National Education Association to collect contributions from its members for its political activities is illegal.

U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Gasch said the procedure, which was challenged by the Federal Election Commission, should be stopped because it resulted in some "unknowing, and therefore, involuntary contributions" in violation of election laws.

Under the check-off procedure, a teacher who joined the NEA not only agreed to the automatic deduction of dues from his or her salary but also agreed to an additional $1 per year political contribution. If he did not want to make that dollar contribution, he had to submit a separate written request for a refund rather than merely telling NEA not to take out the extra dollar.

"When a member joins, he likely assumes that he will have to pay his fair share of the cost of the union's normal labor activities," Gasch said. "It does not follow that he knows he will also be supporting the union's extra-curricular activities in the political arena unless he expressly objects."

Gasch said there was nothing wrong with using a payroll deduction plan to get political contributions, but merely that the union member must be asked beforehand if he wants the contributions deducted along with dues.

He ordered the NEA to inform its members of his ruling and set up a plan to have the money refunded at no expense to the members if they so desire.