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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An abuse of power: Oregon Democrats and the short session

When Governor Brown signed the new minimum wage law on March 2 she hailed it as an example of Oregon’s collaborative spirit. Far from it.

The Democrats have been using this year’s short session to run the Legislature like an authoritarian one-party state. That’s what happens when one party is in control for so long.

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In one case, the Democrats steamrolled Republicans and rammed a minimum wage bill, SB 1532, through the Legislature in just one month.

The Senate passed the bill 16-12, with the vote going strictly along party lines. The House vote was 32-26, with every Republican again voting no.

Under this major law that will impact workers and employers across the state, the base state minimum wage will rise to $9.75 on July 1. Wages will then rise at different rates in in three geographic areas, with the Portland area reaching $14.75 in 2022.

Then there’s what The Oregonian has called “one of the most far-reaching pieces of energy legislation the state has ever seen.”

On March 1, the Democrats rammed through the House on almost a strict party-line vote, the latest version of a controversial bill that would end the use of coal to provide power to Oregonians within two decades and expand the use of renewables to 50% of the power supply by 2040. Republicans then repeatedly failed to derail the legislation, after which all but one Democrat voted to pass the bill, overwhelming the no votes of 12 Republicans (one didn’t vote).

In this case, it wasn’t only the Republicans that were shut out of the process; so was the Oregon Public Utility Commission. The Oregonian reported that state utility regulators say they were shut out when it came time to craft the legislation and when members of the Commission tried to voice their concerns publicly, the governor’s office muzzled them.

To top it off, Democrats have abused the short Legislative session itself.

When voters approved Measure 71, providing for annual legislative sessions, in 2010, there was a general expectation that the short sessions would deal with emergencies and lower-impact bills, leaving the longer sessions for comprehensive and high-impact bills where deliberation and public input would be required.

Democrats have cast that approach aside this short session and run amok with major partisan legislation.

Apparently its true, to slightly rephrase Mark Twain’s observation, that “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the Oregon Legislature is in session.”

 

 

Hillary and The Donald: Self-inflicted wounds

With Super Tuesday voting and other primaries and caucuses behind us, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the clear leaders in the Republican and Democratic races for their party’s presidential nominations.

But they are both damaged candidates and the parties have only themselves to blame for their success.

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Democrats have known for years that Hillary would be a seriously flawed candidate.

 “She has always been awkward and uninspiring on the stump,” a senior Democratic consultant once told the Washington Post. “Hillary has Bill’s baggage and now her own as secretary of state — without Bill’s personality, eloquence or warmth.”

 While her damaging e-mail scandal may be relatively new, Hillary has been associated with decades of personal and political contretemps, leading to a clear case of Clinton fatigue among the populace.

Equally troubling to the Democratic Party should be Hillary’s trust gap.

In a July 2015 Quinnipiac University national poll, 57 percent of respondents said Clinton is not honest and trustworthy, one of the worst scores among all the top candidates at the time. And her scores have gotten worse. In a subsequent Quinnipiac poll, 61 percent of respondents said Clinton is not honest and trustworthy.

In an August 2015 Quinnipiac University poll, “liar” was the first word that came to mind more than others in an open-ended question when voters were asked what they think of Clinton, followed by “dishonest” and “untrustworthy”. (“Arrogant” was the first word that came to mind for Trump, but that doesn’t seem quite as toxic)

In January 2016, a poll produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates put Hillary 12 points behind Bernie Sanders, 48-36 percent, in being seen as more honest and trustworthy, a deterioration from 6 points behind in Dec. 2015 and equal to Sanders in October 2015.

But Hillary’s problems as a candidate go even deeper.

“Voters see her as an extraordinarily cynical, power-hungry insider,” James Poulos said in The Week on Feb. 2. “She is out for herself, not out for Americans. Voters know it.”

This ties in with a long-held and widespread perception that Hillary and her family are just plain greedy, what with them hauling off $190,000 worth of china, flatware, rugs, televisions, sofas and other gifts when they moved out of the White House, taking money from all sorts of unsavory people and foreign countries for their Foundation, and charging exorbitant amounts for speeches.

David Axelrod, a political consultant who helped steer Obama to the presidency, noted in his book, “Believer”, that Hillary has two other main weaknesses: she’s a polarizing rather than a “healing figure,” and she has a hard time selling herself as the “candidate of the future” given her checkered past and long political resume.

And then, as Josh Kraushaar wrote in The Atlantic before Jeb Bush dropped out, “…pundits and donors alike are vastly overrating the prospects of two brand-name candidates for 2016 — Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush — and undervaluing the reality that the current political environment is as toxic as it’s ever been for lifelong politicians.”

Then there’s Trump

That, of course, takes us to Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s “Nightmare on Park Avenue.”

Isolated in their cocoons, party officials (and the political press) assumed an establishment candidate would emerge the victor. They denied to themselves and others for months that Trump would be a viable candidate for the Republican nomination.

Nobody was more smug in this assumption then Jeb!

He started early, rebuilding political connections, building a professional staff and laying the groundwork for a “shock and awe” fundraising blitz. But he faltered early and never regained his balance. He watched helplessly as his fund-raising advantage become a disadvantage, defining him as the establishment favorite when the Republican base was looking for a change agent.

Political leaders also overestimated voters’ desire for solid, traditional, steady candidates and too quickly dismissed Trump as a long-term threat. “Reality TV will gather a lot of interest and a lot of people enjoyed the celebrity of that, but for the last 14 years, I’ve had to live in the real world and deal with real world issues and come up with real world solutions,” former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in mid-2015. “And that’s what the people I think of this country want out of the next president of the United States.”

Meanwhile, confident that Trump’s bombast, misstatements and insults would doom him, Republican Party leaders watched incredulously as he rolled over establishment candidates.

“Until recently, the narrative of stories like this has been predictable,” Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone. “If a candidate said something nuts, or seemingly not true, an army of humorless journalists quickly dug up all the facts, and the candidate ultimately was either vindicated, apologized, or suffered terrible agonies… That dynamic has broken down this election season. Politicians are quickly learning that they can say just about anything and get away with it.”

As Karen Tumulty wrote in the Washington Post, “Will Trump eventually cross a line — or do the lines no longer exist?”

The make-up and size of the Republican candidate field also has worked to Trump’s advantage.

There’s no love lost, for example, between most members of Congress and Ted Cruz. And with so many Republican candidates (17 at one point), voter preferences were atomized for too long and even now none of the remaining candidates are willing to drop out, preventing the emergence of a single challenger to Trump.

So here we are, facing the possibility of a Clinton-Trump election.

Just goes to show that Clarence Darrow was right. “When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tweedledee. Tweedledum: The two parties spend with abandon.

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Tweedledee. Tweedledum. This is what we get when the two parties work together, a massive spending spree.

A $1.1 trillion federal spending bill and a $650 billion tax package unveiled today show that neither party gives a damn about holding down spending. It’s not that all the items to be funded are wasteful or unneeded, but the package will push spending above previously agreed limits by $66 billion in 2016 and permanently extend a vast array of tax benefits that will add at least a half-trillion dollars to the federal deficit, once a matter of great concern.

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  • Bowing to pressure on Republicans and Democrats from medical device manufacturers across the county, including in Oregon, anti-Obamacare zealots, and ticked-off unions with expensive healthcare plans, the legislation will postpone for two years (which probably means forever) a 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices manufacturers, that was expected to raise $29 billion of net revenues over 10 years and a so-called “Cadillac Tax” tax on expensive employer-sponsored healthcare plans, that was projected to raise about $30 billion over 10 years to cover new spending under Obamacare. Then, to add insult to injury, the legislation makes the Cadillac tax refundable when it restarts. The lost taxes will blow a hole in planned funding to cover the cost of Obamacare.
  • The Defense Department will get $1111 billion for new military equipment, including F-35 Joint-Strike Fighters, Black Hawk helicopters, attack submarines and guided missile destroyers.
  • A 40-year-old oil export ban will be rescinded and, in trade, Democrats will get expensive extensions of wind and solar power tax incentives.
  • A research and development tax credit will be expanded and extended permanently.
  • The $1,000 Child Tax Credit will be extended permanently.
  • The Earned Income Tax Credit will be permanently extended.
  • A federal health program for first responders and construction workers who worked at the World Trade Center site after 9/11 and a separate victims compensation fund will be extended at a cost of $8 billion.
  • A National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund will be created to “support work that helps Americans understand and adapt to forces like sea level rise, severe storms, and ocean acidification” associated with climate change.
  • The American Opportunity Tax Credit, an annual credit for tuition and other qualified expenses, will be permanently extended.
  • A $250 annual deduction on qualified expenses of teachers will be indexed for inflation and permanently extended.
  • Five tax credits tied to charitable donations by individuals and businesses will be permanently extended.
  • Funding for the IRS will be frozen, punishing the IRS for targeting conservative groups, but also further limiting its ability to go after tax scofflaws and, this, reducing tax receipts.
  • A $255 per month pre-tax benefit for parking and public transportation expenses will be permanently extended.

But aside from all the spending, Congress did accomplish a few good things.

There will be a pay freeze for Vice President Biden, for example.

Also, earlier this year the dour, stick-in-the-mud Capitol Police said sledding by gleeful children and adults on the snow of Capitol Hill would no longer be allowed. The package asks that the Capitol Police rescind that prohibition so the jollity can resume.

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Disillusionment and despair: the Trump turmoil

Donald Trump isn’t a candidate.

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He’s a stand-in for the alienation and disillusionment so many Americans feel as both the Republican and Democratic parties have failed us.

How could it be otherwise when so much seems so wrong and fakery, misdirection, and outright lies by both parties have been so pervasive?

Consider:

  • The past several decades have seen the most sustained rise in inequality in the United States since the 19th century after more than 40 years of narrowing inequality following the Great Depression. By some estimates, income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years.
  • The 2009 $830 billion stimulus package, with a claimed focus on shovel-ready projects, was supposed to fix things after the Great Recession. The legacy instead – a slow growth economy. The first 23 quarters of the recovery, which officially began in June of 2009, had an annual rate of growth of just 2.1 percent.
  • The distribution of wealth in the United States is even more unequal than that of income. The wealthiest 5 percent of American households held 54 percent of all wealth reported in 1989, rose to 61 percent in 2010 and reached 63 percent in 2013.
  • 71 percent of Americans say life has gotten worse for middle-class Americans over the past 10 years.
  • Today’s fifty-somethings may be part of the first generation in American history to experience a lifetime of downward mobility, in which at every stage of adult life, they have had less income and less net wealth than did people who were their age ten years before.
  • There is now less economic mobility in the United States than in Canada or much of Europe. A child born in the bottom one-fifth of incomes in the United States has only a 4 percent chance of rising to the top one-fifth.
  • Young Americans (ages 18-34) are earning less (adjusted for inflation) than their peers in 1980 ; the college graduating class this year left with an average student debt of $35,051.
  • In 1986, President Reagan signed legislation that was supposed to fix the illegal immigration issue once and for all. Three million applied for legal status and about 2.7 million received it. Today, about 11.7 million immigrants are living in the United States illegally. So much for the fix.
  • Despite all the “mission accomplished” and “victory is at hand” assurances, America has been at war in the Middle East for the past 15 years, with little to show for it, billions of dollars down a rathole, thousands of American soldiers dead and wounded, and continuing chaos in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
  • Despite the billions the government has spent on poverty-related programs, half of children age three and younger live in poverty.
  • The White House wants to “press the reset button” on one of Washington’s biggest challenges: its increasingly troublesome relationship with Russia,” Vice President Biden, 2/7/2009; “We’re going to hit the reset button and start fresh (with Russia),” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 3/6/2009
  • “If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.  If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.” President Obama, 6/6/2009.
  • “I ended the war in Iraq, as I promised. We are transitioning out of Afghanistan. We have gone after the terrorists who actually attacked us 9/11 and decimated al Qaeda.” President Obama, 9/14/2012
  • Despite assurances from some politicians that all’s well, the Medicare program has $28.1 trillion in unfunded liabilities over the next 75 years. Together with Social Security’s $13.3 trillion shortfall, the government has accumulated entitlement spending commitments that far exceed our capacity to pay for them.
  • In the 2012 election cycle, a tiny elite of the U.S. population, just 0.40 %, made a political contribution of more than $200, providing 63.5% of all individual contributions to federal candidates, PACs and Parties, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
  • Fewer than four hundred families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign to date, a concentration of political donors that is unprecedented in the modern era.

As H.L. Mencken said, “Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule — and both commonly succeed, and are right.”

 

Republicans and abortion: a fool’s errand

Let me see if I have this right?

House Republicans exultantly voted on Thursday, Jan. 22, for a bill (H.R. 7) that would forbid the use of taxpayer funding to pay for abortion.

The House Of Representatives votes on H.R. 7

The House Of Representatives votes on H.R. 7

So Republicans, who routinely rant about taxpayer dollars supporting poor freeloaders with too many kids who are burdening the welfare system, want to make sure that people who can’t afford to get an abortion have more babies.

The Hyde Amendment, passed annually as part of an appropriations bill, already prevents using federal funds to pay for abortion, except in cases of incest, rape and life endangerment of the mother, but H.R. 7 would make that permanent law.

The House bill would restrict the use of federal funds to cover abortions, including through the Medicaid federal-state insurance program for low-income Americans, government-owned health-care facilities and the tax credits available to some people to subsidize the cost of health plans purchased under the Affordable Care Act.

Of course, denying to pregnant low-income women any government assistance for abortions pretty much guarantees that more unwanted babies will be born and that the mother and child will be even more dependent on government aid. In many cases, it also means that the child will be taken care of, or not taken care of, by an unwed mother, too often a teenager, that both will struggle to realize a decent life and that society at large will bear the burden of their failure to thrive.

It’s bad enough that many states, with conservatives cheering them on, have eroded Roe v. Wade by adopting measures that severely limit access to abortion for all women, including restrictions that end up constraining the number of clinics in a state that can perform abortions. That means low-income women wanting an abortion are left out in the cold because they can’t afford to travel to a faraway clinic.

The pregnant daughter of a member of Congress probably faces no such financial barrier if she wants an abortion.

After all, a report from OpenSecrets.org showed the median net worth of a member of Congress was $1,029,505 in 2013, compared with an average American household’s median net worth of  $56,355. Keeping up the trend, half of this year’s freshman class were already millionaires upon their arrival.

Meanwhile, Congress isn’t the only abortion battlefield. Outside the Beltway, Republican gains in numerous states in the November elections strengthened the anti-abortion zealots in statehouses and governor’s offices.

And so the struggle continues.

Merkley’s money: what a difference a term makes

HandsOut

Things are different now.

When Democrat Jeff Merkley first ran for the U.S. Senate in 2008, he raised a total of $6,512,231.

Now that he’s a Senator, he’s already reported raising $6,286,013 for his reelection and the 2014 race, in theory, hasn’t even begun. The Republicans haven’t even chosen who will run against him.

That means Merkley’s total haul is likely to go much higher as individuals, special interests and Democratic Party funds ramp up their donations to keep him in office.

The two parties are in a no-holds-barred struggle for control of the Senate, where pollsters and analysts think the Republicans have a shot at taking control with a good showing in the November 2014 elections. Merkley isn’t often mentioned as being in a high-risk race, but then former Senator Gordon Smith wasn’t thought to be vulnerable early on either.

With 5 years as a U.S. Senator now behind him, the sources of Merkley’s donations are shifting. A smaller share is coming from individual contributors and twice as much from political action committees (PACs). Also, more unions are stepping up as big contributors, his big donors have less of an Oregon focus and Merkley isn’t having to dig into his own pocket.

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According to the Center for Responsive Politics, contributions to Merkley’s campaign committee for his 2008 campaign and for his 2014 campaign as of Dec. 31, 2013 break down as follows:

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For his 2008 Senate race, Merkley’s largest 10 contributors (individuals and PACs) to his campaign committee were:

JStreetPAC $78,180
Council for a Livable World $55,889
State of Oregon employees $35,050
Oregon Health & Science University $33,964
Moveon.org $26,731
Stoel, Rives et al $23,323
League of Conservation Voters $21,500
Intel Corporation $17,920
Newmark Knight Frank $17,300
Intl. Brotherhood of Electrical Workers $17,200

The largest contributor to his 2008 campaign, Washington, D.C-based JStreetPAC, makes contributions to candidates who support a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine and robust American military aid to Israel. “I am and will continue to be a staunch supporter of the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel,” Merkley said during his 2008 campaign.“I will always seek to ensure its strength and foster its growth.”

The second largest contributor to his 2008 campaign, Council for a Livable World, is a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to reducing the danger of nuclear weapons. Merkley subsequently voted in 2010 for a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia and in February 2014, Merkley and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) introduced legislation that would cut $100 billion over the next decade from the U.S. nuclear weapons budget.

The bill, S. 2070, would shut down all U.S. missile defense activities, reduce from 12 to eight the number of SSBN(X) ballistic-missile submarines that are set to replace the retiring Ohio-class fleet and limit to eight the number of Ohio-class submarines that can currently be fielded. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Armed Services where its languishing.

The largest 10 contributors (individuals and PACs) to Merkley’s campaign committee for his 2014 race as of the end of 2013 are significantly different, with much less of an Oregon focus:

Votesane PAC $31,250
Thornton & Naumes $25,000
Intel Corporation $22,050
Honeywell Intl. $20,000
Operating Engineers Union $20,000
Intl. Association of Firefighters $18,500
Blue Cross/Blue Shield $17,100
League of Conservation Voters $15,314
American Crystal Sugar $15,000
Communications Workers of America $15,000

Votesane PAC, a non-partisan channel for political donations, has funneled $1.6 million to candidates in the 2014 election cycle, with almost all of it going to Democrats.

The only union showing up in Merkley’s list of top 10 contributors for his 2008 race was the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers at $17,200. Three unions show up as his biggest contributors for the 2014 race so far with a total of $53,500.

Also making their debut as major Merkley contributors are individuals from Thornton & Naumes, a Boston, Mass. law firm with class action expertise that has represented people claiming they were victims of asbestos and toxic exposure, defective products, financial fraud, and personal injury accidents.. Law firms and lawyers have been the top contributors to Merkley’s 2014 campaign as of Dec. 31, 2013, donating a total of $296,363.

This only reveals, of course, donations up the end of 2013. Expect a lot of shifts as the campaign progresses.

Merkley has already spent $3,045,241, or almost half, of the funds he’s raised since 2008. Recently, the largest single amount has gone to Mandate Media,a Portland-based internet strategy,services,and advertising firm specializing in progressive political candidates and advocacy organizations. Mandate is also associated with BlueOregon, a widely distributed progressive e-newsletter.

The top 5 recipients of the campaign’s recent expenditures were:

Mandate Media $200,485
CHS Mailing $141,305
Kauffman Group $125,163
Linemark Printing $ 71,639
Benenson Strategy Group $ 47,000

It’s important to recognize that much of the money now being spent on campaigns is so-called independent expenditures, spending by groups and individuals who claim they are not coordinating their activities with a candidate’s campaign committee.

In Merkley’s 2008 race, for example, according to FindTheBest, the following outside groups spent about $675,000 in support of his candidacy:

Committee Amount

Service Employees International
Union Committee on Political Education
(SEIU Cope) $430,238
League of Conservation Voters Inc. $145,317
Democratic Senatorial Committee $ 47,746
League of Conservation Voters
Action Fund $ 40,862
Moveon.org Political Action $ 7,026

It’s likely that similarly large amounts of independent expenditures will occur in the 2014 race.

Data sources: The Center for Responsive Politics (http://www.opensecrets.org), a non-profit, non-partisan research group based in Washington, D.C.; FindTheBest (www.findthebest.com; http://bit.ly/1nYKKSA),a network of for-profit websites connected to help consumers and businesses make informed decisions.

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