Union Members Can Stop Subsidizing Liberal Candidates and Causes

 

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A question to conservative Oregon union members (I know you’re out there): Why are you contributing to union political funds when most of the money ends up supporting liberal Democratic candidates?

About 18% of the electorate across the country was from union households in the Nov. 8, 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump captured 43% of those union-household voters.

In Oregon, 14.8 percent of the wage and salary workforce belonged to a union in 2015. It’s not clear how they voted, but it’s likely, based upon national patterns, that a decent share voted Republican.

Still, Oregon’s unions overwhelming endorsed Democrats. For example, all but two of the AFL-CIO’s 2016 Legislative endorsements in Oregon were for Democrats (one was an independent, one a Republican), as were all the statewide candidate endorsements.

Similarly, in the 2016 election, political contributions from Oregon’s unions went overwhelmingly to Democrats. For example, SEIU’s PAC, Citizen Action for Political Education (CAPE), spent $2,001,758.89 on the 2016 election. Of that, $706,750.00 went to Defend Oregon (the group pushing Measure 97), $205,000 to the Committee to Elect Brad Avakian, $180,000 to the Kate Brown Committee, and $37,380 to The Real Mike Nearman Committee (created to defeat Republican Mike Nearman).

So why don’t more union members who disagree with their union’s political stances decline to contribute to their union’s PAC and opt out of supporting the union’s political activities. It’s not that hard to do. All a union member has to do is become an “agency fee payer”, sometimes also called a “Fair Share Payer” or “Non-member.”

Oregon allows public employees who are part of a collective bargaining unit to refuse membership in the union that represents that unit. But because the union still has to negotiate on their behalf, these nonmembers must contribute to cover costs which cover collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance adjustment, but not costs associated with political activities.

This worker right was established in 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that while employees can be required to pay dues for the direct benefits they get from the union, they can’t be forced to give money to unions for political activities.

According to Steve Buckstein,  Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, even before the 2012 Court decision, a telephone company employee named Harry Beck spent over two decades fighting for the right to opt out of paying the political portion of his union dues to the Communications Workers of America. In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor in Beck v. CWA and created what are now known as Beck rights. Harry is now retired and lives in Oregon. You can watch him tell his story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a29L3ouJ6tw.

Political spending by unions can be substantial…and influential.

In a Sept. 2015 report to individuals who pay Fair Share fees, the liberal-leaning Oregon Education Association (OEA) said 22.9 percent of its total expenses were nonchargeable for Fair Share fee payers and the liberal-leaning National Education Association (NEA) said a whopping 62.71 percent of its total expenses were nonchargeable for Fair Share fee payers.

This means that if annual OEA dues were $600, they could have been reduced to $462.60 and if annual NEA dues were $185, they could have been reduced to $68.99.

Think of it. Workers, rather than union bosses, deciding for themselves how, or whether, they want to spend their money on political causes.

 

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Who owns Brad Avakian? Unions.

 

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I’m tired of all these wealthy donors thinking that because I’ve been bought and paid for, they own me.                                                                                                                      (With thanks to the New Yorker) 

Brad Avakian, a Democrat running for Oregon’s Secretary of State, insists that one of his highest priorities is campaign finance reform.

“Everyone’s voice should be heard in our democracy – but that’s not happening right now,” Avakian says. “The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was a terrible mistake. It’s allowing big corporate donors to drown out the voice of everyday voters…But what can we do about it? Here’s what: Oregon can lead the way. As Secretary of State, I’ll fight to reform Oregon’s campaign finance system.”

Really?

Mr. Avakian conveniently leaves out that the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizen United Ruling not only removed virtually any restriction on corporate money in politics. It also removed virtually any restriction on union money.

So how does Mr. Avakian feel about jumbo contributions to candidates from unions? He seems to be OK with those, based on the union contributions he’s received to date, including:

Oregon Education Association –People for Improvement of Education (142)                                         $95,000

Oregon School Employees Association –Voice of Involved Classified Employees (2307)                                    $65,000

Citizen Action for Political Education (33)                                     $60,000

United Food & Commercial Workers                                                $50,000

Oregon AFSCME Council 75                                                                 $30,000

Pacific NW Regional Council of Carpenters, SSF                           $30,000

Laborers’ Political League                                                                     $25,000

Oregon, South Idaho District Council of Laborers                         $15,000

Local 48 Electricians PAC (4572)                                                          $11,000

Oregon AFL-CIO                                                                                        $10,364

Plumbers & Steamfitters Local Union 598                                        $10,000

DRIVE Committee (Teamsters’ political action committee)      $10,000

American Federation of Teachers-OR Candidate PAC (113)        $  7,500

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees PAC         $  6,000

Working America (Political organizing arm of the AFL-CIO)      $  6,668

Portland Association of Teachers PAC                                                 $  5,000

IUPAT Political Action Together Political Committee                     $  5,000

 

Talk is cheap Brad.

What’s particularly striking is that union members accounted for just 14.8 percent of wage and salary workers in Oregon in 2015, but union contributions represent almost 40 percent of the total Avakian has raised in 2016.

So who do you think Avakian is going to represent if he’s elected?

 

Who owns Chuck Riley?

Democrat Chuck Riley’s defeat of Republican Bruce Starr on Nov. 4 for Oregon’s 15th District Senate seat cost a ton of money. Now, like a company that’s gone public, his key supporters are going to expect a return on their investments.

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As of Dec. 8, 2014, Riley’s campaign committee, Friends of Chuck Riley, had raised $913,372.33 and spent $889,757.01, according to records on file with the Oregon Secretary of State. The onslaught of campaign cash was so great that the contest ended up being the most expensive state Senate race in Oregon history.

But it was also a very tight race, with Riley finally coming in ahead by just 287 votes out of 39,734 cast. Likely costing Starr the race was the Libertarian candidate, Caitlin Mitchel-Markley, who captured 3,593 votes.

That suggests the next race will be hard fought as well, particularly if no 3rd party candidate runs, and that it will again require a substantial war chest. To create that war chest Riley will have to placate some big givers. After all, it was the big givers who filled his coffers, not the little people.
So who does Chuck Riley owe for his victory?

The biggest cash/in-kind contributors to Friends of Chuck Riley were Riley’s own Democratic Party, unions, a climate change activist, trial lawyers, and two national gun control groups.

The money from the Democratic Party came from two groups, the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund ($174,585.50)
and the Democratic Party of Oregon ($107,577.56), which received significant contributions from some of the same characters as Riley’s committee.

For example, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control group, Everytown for Gun Safety, donated $75,000 directly to Friends of Chuck Riley and $50,000 to the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund.

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg

Riley’s committee also pulled in $10,000 from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Other big contributors to Riley’s Committee included:

• Service Employees International Union (SEIU) $204,460.39

This includes: $193,661.96 from Citizen Action for Political Education of SEIU Local 503; $10,798.43 from Committee on Political Education of SEIU Local 49.

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• Oregon League of Conservation Voters PAC $191,120.02

OLCV made an in-kind contribution of $127,498.50 in the form of a TV ad. The balance was in the form of: cash; in-kind field work, postage, preparation and production of advertising and a phone program. The TV ad money came out of a $130,000.00 contribution to OLCV from NextGen Climate Action Committee, established by billionaire Tom Steyer to help candidates who support the need to deal with climate change.

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• Oregon Trial Lawyers Association PAC $38,477.87

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• Oregon American Federation of State, County
and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 75
Political Soft $17,500.00

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• Oregon Education Association – People for
Improvement of Education $8,342.00

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• Other unions $10,500.00

Joint Council of Teamsters No. 37 Political Fund
$1,750

United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local
555
$4,500

Oregon School Employees Association – Voice of
Involved Classified Employees
$1,000

International Union of Operating Engineers, Local
701 Misc PAC
$250

American Federation of Teachers-Oregon Candidate
PAC
$3,000

All of the above contributions totaled $752,563.34. That’s 85 percent of total expenditures by Riley’s committee.

Compare that with the amount that came in from contributors of $100 or less, about $8000. That’s less than 1 percent of total expenditures by Riley’s committee. Even if all the small contributors had bundled their money in an effort to enhance their potential influence, they would have been a small player. They might as well have spent their money on a nice dinner out.

So, how are we going to know the influence of the big donors on Riley? It’s not going to be easy.

First of all, it’s not clear that the size of Riley’s war chest was the key determinant in his victory. There’s no hard evidence of a constant linear linkage between campaign money and victory, although a candidate does need enough money to deliver key messages to critical audiences.

But now that Riley has been elected, the major donors are likely to influence positions Riley takes.Equally important, large donations to Riley are likely to give certain interests better access to him to influence public policy in general.

Big donors will also probably have an ability to influence the shape and specifics of legislation that’s before Riley much earlier in the legislative process, when it’s harder for the public to detect.

Large donations may also carry the day on critical votes where Riley’s one vote for or against can determine the fate of a bill. “These low salience critical votes present the most likely circumstances for members to repay groups for their financial support,” according to Lynda Powell at the University of Rochester in a paper on The Influence of Campaign Contributions on Legislative Policy.

One thing is clear – the big donors are going to be keeping an eye on Riley, just like big investors keep an eye on the stock market. All investments carry some risk, but the reward for risk can be a great return.

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