Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Andy Stern has made political power the hallmark of his career atop the largest union in the country. But now, as his unions’ role in the Blagojevich scandal becomes more apparent, Stern’s quid pro quo political power deserves a second (and third and fourth) look.
In this mornings Wall Street Journal, Kris Maher and David Kesmodel begin to untangle the SEIU’s seeming too-close-for-comfort relationship with Blagojevich (subscription required, sorry). Here’s an excerpt:
The Illinois situation fuels a perception that the SEIU has an “inside track” with elected officials, says Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University, in Worcester, Mass. “Every union will use political influence to make organizing easier,” he said. “They may have gone beyond the usual influence.”
Few places more clearly illustrate this than Illinois. The SEIU contributed about $1.8 million to Mr. Blagojevich’s two campaigns for governor, in 2002 and 2006, and was his top contributor in the second election. Critics have long charged that it is suspicious that several big SEIU contributions to Mr. Blagojevich occurred close to when he acted in ways that benefited the union.
In one example, the union contributed $200,000 to Mr. Blagojevich on March 3, 2006, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Six days later, the governor signed a labor contract covering SEIU home-care workers. Following the contract, membership at SEIU Local 880 in Chicago increased to 45,000 workers from 24,000, according to Labor Department records.
The Journal writes that “using political influence in this way isn’t illegal.” While it isn’t illegal to try to buy influence, it is illegal to sell it, as we’re beginning to see in Illinois.