|Look out big labor is back! But then they never
really went away! This year as in years passed, labor
(the AFL-CIO affiliates in Nevada, teachers unions
affiliated with the National Education and state and
local public employee unions) has flexed its political
muscles with millions of dollars in political
contributions. Money has flowed from the pockets of union
members through union headquarters directly into the
pockets of Democratic candidates at federal, state and
local levels. Did the union members have a say in who got
these campaign donations? No!
AFL-CIO's National Campaign
Earlier this year John Sweeney announced that the AFL-CIO would be targeting Republican freshman members of Congress for defeat in the November election. To back up his threat he committed $35 million dollars toward the task. But $35 million dollars is just the tip of the iceberg. Leo Troy, Professor of Economics at Rutgers University estimates that the actual cost of Big Labors mailings, phone banks and get-out-the-vote-drives cost fifteen times that figure. As Harry Beck points out in a recent Wall Street Journal article, "Thats more than every Republican spent for federal office in the 1994 election and four times the legal budgets of Dole and Clinton combined.
US Congressional Representative John Ensign learned first hand that being one of the targeted freshmen meant war - a war of "in your face" charges and attacks which were designed to emote rather than provide facts to the electorate.
Nevada, The Right To Work State
Thanks to the State Legislature, Nevada is a Right To Work State. "Right To Work" essentially means that no union can compel non-union employees to pay a shop fee for inadvertently benefiting from union negotiations. All well and good for non-union members but are union dues being used for political purposes without the permission or knowledge of the payer? Would each union member consent to the contributions being made to union endorsed candidates? Would the 40 percent of the NSEA membership which is registered Republican consent to 88 percent of the political contributions going to Democratic candidates? These are questions weve raised in hopes that Campaign Finance Reform will hold union PACs more financially accountable to the electorate.
Lax Campaign Finance Laws Equal PAC Reporting Discrepancies
The Nevada State Education Association (NSEA) is a case in point. Nevadas only teachers union, according to its own 1995-96 line item budget, targeted $3 million in expenditures for that fiscal year. Approximately 16,000 teachers and support staff are on NSEA scrolls, each paying on average, annual dues of slightly less than $500 a year. Based on those figures, NSEA receives a minimum of $8 million per year. Now, if $2 million is assessed by the National Education Association, and $3 million is budgeted for 1995-96 expenditures, how is the remaining $3 million used? We know that according to Keith Lange, NSEA Executive Director, $12 of the dues is dedicated to "political action" not
Perspectives Newsletter). So at least $204,000
goes toward political action without the direct consent
of the payer. With $1 million going toward actual
campaign donations in 1992 alone (figures obtained from
NSEAs own Campaign 1992 Summary), yet only $100,000
was reported to the Secretary of State - a discrepancy of
$800,000 remains. And unfortunately, until Nevada changes
its own campaign finance laws and tracks PAC money more
closely, the answers to such questions will remain a
Would Nevada Benefit from a Mini-Beck Bill?
Union political activity caught the attention of Harry Beck in the 1960s. At that time Beck was an organizer for the Communications Workers of America, another member union of the AFL-CIO. He began to wonder what right the union had to use his dues to advocate agendas with which he disagreed. If the First Amendment grants the right of free speech, does it also grant the right to refrain from supporting speech someone might oppose? Beck, with the assistance of the Washington, DC based National Right To Work Foundation filed, a lawsuit - Beck v. Communications Workers of America - challenging the unions use of dues for political purposes.
In 1988, the United States Supreme Court found for Mr. Beck. The unions could no longer legally spend dues for any other purpose than collective bargaining, contract administration, or grievance adjustment. Thus, these union member rights took on the name Becks Rights.
Bush, Clinton, NLRB, Department of Labor Ignore Beck Decision
How many union members have heard of Becks Rights? Very few, indeed. And the reason although not shocking is cause for real concern regarding non-elected regulators being gate keepers to implementation of statutes.
The NLRB, National Labor Relations Board has never enforced the decision. Nor has any presidential administration since its pronouncement. In fact, President Clinton ordered federal contractors to tear down any remaining Beck notifications. And the stonewalling tactics have worked; 78 percent of union members have never heard of the Beck Decision.
NPRI's Proposal: The Nevada SPCNA
So NPRI proposes a State Political Contribution Notification Act be enacted during the next legislative session. This would bring "Beck sanity" to the Nevada political scene, provide real disclosure and protections for union members who would be able to direct their political contributions in conformity with their own philosophies rather than the union leadership, and would clean up at least one of the PAC vagaries which has lead to less than clean transactions on the political playing field.u
NPRI sends out policy briefs to all NPRI members on a weekly basis.