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Latest News - October 2014

November 3, 2014
Big Political Spending By Unions--Paid With Dues
Source: Forbes
By: Terry Pell

Political campaigns depend on free speech and association. Sadly, this election cycle is providing further evidence that the First Amendment rights of hundreds of thousands of teachers and other public employees are being trampled upon by powerful, highly partisan and deceptive unions.

(Disclaimer: The Center for Individual Rights is a public interest law firm representing Rebecca Friedrichs and her co-plaintiffs in Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association.)

Unions have come armed to the financial teeth this election cycle to aid their Democratic friends and causes. In California, the California Teachers Association (CTA) is pulling out all the money stops to try and defeat reformer Marshall Tuck in the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction, which could turn out to be the most expensive race in the Golden State this year. Nationally, the National Education Association (NEA) expects to spend $40 million to influence the outcome of state and local elections.

The unions’ financial support of Democrats is not new or unusual. What is news though is the extent to which unions have gone to hide the aggressively partisan nature of their expenditures.

For example, a good chunk of the $40 million the NEA expects to spend—$12.6 million so far—is reportedly utilized by the union’s “Super PAC” called the NEA Advocacy Fund. As union observer Mike Antonucci points out, because these independent campaign committees do not coordinate with individual candidates, the union takes the position that it can use ordinary dues to fund its Super PACs rather than having to raise funds through voluntary donations, as is the case with the union’s regular PACs. Though agency fee payers can apply for a refund, they have to wait until next year to see the money.

The Super PAC gambit is just one of many ways teachers unions are hiding this year’s political expenditures behind a spider’s web of rules. As Jason Hart notes, the American Federation of Teachers—the NEA’s main competitor—made contributions to dozens of left-leaning organizations this year. They include: $75,000 to the Human Rights Campaign (national group working for “working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights”); $50,000 to the Center for American Progress (progressive think tank led by former Clinton and Obama aides); and $25,000 each to Jesse Jackson’s “Rainbow Push Coalition” and Al Sharpton’s “National Action Network.”

Hart observes that none of the $2.3 million in contributions to these and other similar groups were listed as political or lobbying expenses and reported to the Department of Labor as such. Instead they were classed as “contributions, gifts, and grants,” apparently to minimize the union’s reported total of political expenses. Teachers have a difficult time knowing what political contributions their dues are supporting since the union is anything but transparent about what they are.

Unions go to some length to obscure their politics behind a veneer of even handedness. Last year, CTA President Dean Vogel made much of the fact that the CTA is a “bipartisan” organization with thirty-five percent Republican membership. One might think that the union would then be even-handed in its political endorsements this fall. Not so. As former Democratic California State Senator Gloria Romero recently observed, the CTA has only endorsed two Republicans (both minority leaders that the union needs to smooth its legislative agenda) in this year’s California elections, while throwing their support behind almost 100 Democrats.

The disparity between the politics of union members and the political expenditures made by union leadership is the very reason why nine California teachers have filed a federal lawsuit (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association) challenging compulsory union dues. One step away from the Supreme Court, this suit seeks to put union members back into the driver’s seat by giving them the right to decide for themselves whether to financially support the union.

If union leaders were accountable to union members, it would make blatantly one-sided political expenditures less likely. At least individual members would have the constitutionally protected right to walk away from such a one-sided, partisan agenda.

 

 


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