Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Howard Dean’s Campaign Cash Confession

One pressing issue in the Democratic presidential primary is campaign finance and its impact on policy, with Senator Bernie Sanders pressing his rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on her record taking money from various business groups. This caused one Clinton surrogate, former Democratic National Committee chair and Vermont Governor Howard Dean, to speak an unspeakable truth in Democratic politics: “labor unions are super PACs.”

Dean continued, “Now, they’re super PACs that Democrats like, so we don’t go after labor unions.” That’s also true — the far-left groups that are often the loudest complainers about campaign finance are frequent recipients of the $420 million in union funding that goes for unions’ outside-group political advocacy. You can see the clip below for his full quote (starts at 1:25 into the clip).

That might all be fine if unions got members’ affirmative permission before using dues money for political purposes. But that isn’t the case, outside of checkoff contributions to union PACs. And while federal law and the law in some states mandate that candidate contributions be opt-in through the separate PAC, the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allow a union to contribute required dues money to a liberal Super PAC if it wishes to do so.

Current law provides insufficient protections for union members who might be actively working on behalf of a candidate that their dues money opposes. This is an immediate reality for many supporters of Sen. Sanders, who has received few union boss endorsements but took over 40 percent of the union household vote in Iowa’s Democratic caucuses according to voter entrance/exit polls. It  is an ongoing fact of life for the roughly 40 percent of union household voters in general elections who support Republicans.

New legislation would protect union members’ ability to refrain from paying the allies of candidates they don’t support: The Employee Rights Act (ERA), currently before Congress, would require opt-in permission before unions could spend member dues on politics.

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Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActPolitical Money