The recent Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. FEC struck down federal limits on the total amount individuals can contribute to combinations of federal candidates and parties during a two-year election cycle. Predictably, it unleashed a wrath of criticism from labor unions. But a comparison of their rhetoric to reality shows a little introspection is warranted before they call the kettle black.
In the hours after McCutcheon was announced, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka stated, “The Supreme Court made one of the most undemocratic and corrosive decisions in history with the Citizens United ruling. Today, it has dangerously broadened its skewed view of money in politics.” Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), also took the opportunity to blast the Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, adding McCutcheon “is a disappointing opinion that puts the underlying values of our democratic system at risk.”
What Trumka and Henry leave out of their critiques is that although Citizens United did enable corporations to make unlimited independent political expenditures, it also allowed labor unions to do precisely the same. And as evidenced by their own eye-popping political spending, labor unions — particularly the AFL-CIO and SEIU — are keenly aware of this reality. In the 2012 elections, Big Labor spent $433 million on state and federal political causes.
This year, unions are going even bigger. The AFL-CIO has already vowed to spend $300 million to unseat just five Republican governors, in Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio — $60 million per gubernatorial election. And that doesn’t include the tens of millions of dollars they will funnel to U.S. House and Senate campaigns.
Even more inconceivable is that Trumka, Henry and other union bosses have the temerity to invoke the values of democracy to support their hypocritical positions on political spending. Labor unions — particularly in forced unionization states — are antithetical to democratic ideals, chief among them the rejection of compelled speech.
In 2012, 43 percent of union households voted for a Republican in the House of Representatives. Yet 91 percent of union political contributions went to Democratic candidates. This is a major disconnect, especially considering much of those contributions come from mandatory dues. Forcing union members to pay for political causes with which they disagree is not only anti-democratic, but a concept Thomas Jefferson deemed “sinful and tyrannical.”
Or consider that less than 10 percent of current union members voted for the union at their workplace. This is quite the irony for a group that ostensibly believes everyone should have an equal voice in political elections. Fortunately for union members, there is legislation before Congress that would correct this imbalance of rights. The Employee Rights Act (ERA), sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., has 27 cosponsors in the Senate and 89 cosponsors in the House. It is pro-employee legislation based on eight straightforward principles that together ensure employees are afforded democratic rights on the job.
The ERA would require that private-sector unions gain affirmative opt-in consent from members before using their dues money for political purposes. The ERA would also give a voice to the 90 percent of union members who never voted to join their union by requiring recertification elections on a regular basis — akin to politicians standing for re-election.
Importantly, the ERA receives broad bipartisan support. Individual components of the ERA pivot around 80 percent approval among Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike. If Trumka, Henry and other union leaders believe in the democratic values they preach, they should support the ERA.
Richard Berman is the executive director of the Center for Union Facts, which operates EmployeeRightsAct.com.