Potomac Fever is the blog of the Hamilton College Semester in Washington Program.
I just want to make sure I'm understanding correctly what this article is saying about union dues coming from taxpayers. Is the argument made here that it goes taxpayers -> gov't employees -> union -> campaign? If so, that seems like questionable logic to me; it's not really the government's money anymore after it's been paid out to private individuals. Or have I missed the point of the article? I admit to not knowing a great deal about how unions work.
I hadn’t thought of it that way, and I’d agree that as soon as employees (federal or not) are paid, the money is theirs to spend. However the author’s main concern seems to be with the conflict of interest that exists (taxpayers want the government to be efficient and cheap, while government employees want easier jobs and more cash) and how unions (not private individuals) spend their money. In other words, the author isn’t condemning federal employees for contributing to campaigns, but he is questioning the ethicality of these unions spending dues (which are derived from taxpayers) to shape politics.
But if it's no longer the government's money once it's paid to the union members, surely it doesn't become the government's again when they pay their dues to the union? Unions are not part of the government even if they are for government employees. I don't see how public union contributions to campaigns are less ethical than any other lobby's contributions.I do see what you're saying about a conflict of interest, but I think that same logic applies to most groups that contribute to campaign. Manufacturers want as much government assistance as they can get, even when this goes against taxpayers' interests... does this mean they shouldn't be able to make campaign contributions?
At this point, I think public union contributions are less ethical and of a different nature than other forms of contribution. From what I’ve read, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowed unions to contribute to campaigns using private individuals’ dues without their permission and without disclosure. The largest single political contributor in the 2010 campaign cycle is the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, contributing $87.5 million, so it seems that a large portion of members’ dues actually do go towards campaign financing (without their permission and without disclosure). Also, it’s different for public unions because they are essentially electing their own boss—they contribute to the Obama campaign because they understand that when Obama is elected he will repay them (2009 stimulus included $160 billion that went to state/local governments).
In response to your first point, what does it matter that they don't have a say? They've given their dues to the union voluntarily, and now it's the union's money to spend as they see fit. (Unless union membership is compulsory for these professions, in which case you might have a point, but I don't think it is. Is it?)As for your second point, I still don't see how that's different from any other group contributing to a campaign. Unions give money to candidates who they expect to be pro-union; industry lobbying groups give money to candidates who they expect to be pro-their industry. How does the differentiation between whether they represent a public or private group make that any better or worse?
Ok, good questions, here's what I've got (I could be wrong):Although full union membership cannot be lawfully required in a "Right to Work" state (Right to Work laws grant employees the right to determine whether or not to join a union. I think currently 22 are 'right to work' states and 28 are forced union states), one may still be required to pay union fees. Furthermore, employees who work in the railway and airline industries are not protected by a Right to Work law, and those working on a federal enclave may also not be protected. Private industry employees' interests and taxpayers' interests may not always align, but they are not consistently in conflict with taxpayers' interests the way that public sector employees' interests are. What really drives this point home is the relation between public sector union percentages and tax rates of a state. In overly unionized regions taxpayers have an increased burden—a burden they’d obviously prefer not to bear.
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