Time To Come Clean On Union Election Spending.
Last week, a federal judge struck down a new Federal Election Commission regulation that would have exempted certain nonprofit groups that advertise on political issues from revealing donors’ names. Those on the Left who naively believe that “secret money” is the root of all evil in American politics, and not merely a symptom of an overly powerful centralized government, were ecstatic. Among them was the New York Times editorial board, which called the Van Hollen v. FEC ruling “a win for clean elections.”
What went unmentioned in the press was that these same groups were spending “secret money” right up through 2002, when McCain-Feingold became law. They have historically been afforded donor privacy because of a 1958 Supreme Court decision that protected NAACP donors from harassment by racist Alabama authorities. There is, however, a serious legal argument that this civil rights precedent does not directly apply, and that transparency should prevail over custom. But if it brings such joy to their hearts to reveal the names of private citizens who support Planned Parenthood or Americans for Tax Reform, why do so many on the Left seem so disinterested in the more substantive campaign finance issues that pertain to organized labor?
Labor unions have long exercised disproportionate influence in the election process, and this disproportionality only grows as unions decline. The problem is not so much one of donors (unions have a captive audience of those) but of political spending. No one knows what unions spend on elections. Politifact, a project of the Tampa Bay Times, once attempted to fact-check claims about union political spending during the 2010 race. It was unable to come up with a concrete number because much of unions’ election money just isn’t reported.
Unions must disclose PAC contributions to candidates and party committees as well as their independent expenditures, but not the money they spend to persuade and organize their membership, register Democratic voters, and get out the vote on behalf of Democratic candidates. This is why the unions’ own boasts of their national political spending, often published in newspaper articles, significantly exceeds the amounts that can be traced through publicly available documents.
For an extreme case of potential influence, consider the United Auto Workers. The UAW has tens of billions of reasons to influence elections, having recently benefited from a large bailout. Although the union has lost nearly half of its members since 2001, its March 30 Department of Labor filing reveals that it still maintains more than $1 billion in assets — four times its annual operating budget and roughly 10 times the amount held by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The UAW is not likely to spend all of that on elections this year — perhaps it won’t spend anything. But under the Citizens United precedent, it can spend money on politics from its general fund, and much of that would go undisclosed.
We support transparency, and with the Van Hollen ruling the FEC might now develop a better balance to guarantee it in campaign finance. But it is beyond us why one cannot get a simple and honest accounting of organized labor’s influence on elections. Source/Credit: Editorial Staff for the Washington Examiner.