Last year, Bill de Blasio became mayor of New York City, thanks in large part to hundreds of thousands of dollars in union “independent expenditures” — election spending not formally coordinated with a campaign, and funded by member dues. Now, it appears that Big Labor’s network of outside spending was even broader (and better disguised) than originally thought.
The New York Daily News notes one such scheme by UNITE HERE’s John W. Wilhelm, who is conveniently Mr. de Blasio’s cousin. The Daily News reports:
Eight days before the 2013 election, the union run by Bill de Blasio’s cousin quietly made a donation to a so-called “independent” political group whose spending benefited de Blasio’s mayoral bid, the Daily News has learned.
It was the second instance of the union — UNITE HERE! — giving money to an “independent” group that aided de Blasio’s political interests.
On Oct. 28, UNITE HERE! gave $200,000 to the New York Jobs Now Committee, a coalition of businesses and unions that urged voters to approve a ballot question on allowing casino gambling.
On Oct. 29 and 30, the New York Jobs Now Committee spent $85,000 on a mailing that quoted de Blasio, Gov. Cuomo and a newspaper editorial touting the benefits of casino gambling.
One mailer that the “New York Jobs Now Committee” front group sent out highlighted de Blasio’s name on a sample ballot and touted his support for a casino gaming ballot measure, leading the NYC Campaign Finance Board to rule that the Committee’s “posters and leaflets were supportive of de Blasio’s campaign.”
Curiously, you won’t find the disbursement of dues money to the New York Jobs Now Committee front group—or a separate $175,000 payment to NYCLASS, an animal rights group that opposed one of de Blasio’s primary rivals—on UNITE HERE’s LM-2 under “Political Activities and Lobbying” (Schedule 16). Instead, the payments were classified as “Contributions, Gifts, and Grants.”
Is that legal? The LM-2 Instructions published by the Department of Labor cast doubt. They read:
A political disbursement or contribution is one that is intended to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of anyone to a Federal, state, or local executive, legislative or judicial public office, or office in a political organization, or the election of Presidential or Vice Presidential electors, and support for or opposition to ballot referenda.
By a plain-text reading of the Instructions, UNITE HERE funneling $200,000 to a front group for a ballot measure with the intent to influence both support of a referendum and to influence the election of New York’s Mayor qualifies as political. There are serious employee rights concerns from this misclassification. If UNITE HERE characterized these expenditures as “chargeable” (we can’t know if the union did, but they plainly aren’t validly related to collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment), then forced-dues-paying nonmembers would have to pay for them. The Supreme Court has ruled that forced-dues-paying nonmembers don’t have to pay for “non-chargeable”—generally political—expenditures if they affirmatively object.
But UNITE HERE’s convoluted scheme is just another reason that Congress must pass the Employee Rights Act (ERA). ERA would enact the well-supported policy of “paycheck protection,” which would forbid unions from spending dues money on politics without members’ affirmative consent.