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Latest News - July 2012

July 10, 2012
If Big Money In Politics Offends You, Then You Must Loathe Labor Unions
Source: Forbes
By: Kyle Smith

The AFL-CIO is spending about $52 per union member these days, up from around $39 in 2005-2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Big money is a big problem in American politics, isn’t it? Former Labor Secretary and freelance public intellectual Robert Reich warns of the dire “secret big-money takeover of America.” “Big money has long dominated our elections,” says the liberal good-government group Common Cause, adding that “the problem with money in politics is not so much the amount that is spent on campaigns as it is who pays for them, what they get in return, and how that affects public policy and spending priorities.” In other words, political spending is a huge problem because of its tendency to be political. is running an online petition seeking a Constitutional amendment to “get big money out of politics.” And the unknown sources of some campaign spending have everyone very worried. “Donors hiding in the shadows,” warns a typical AP report.

Until this week, though, $3.3 billion dollars of political spending from 2005 to 2011 was hidden, jammed down deep beneath the sofa cushions of public life. A blockbuster Wall Street Journal report revealed that Big Labor has been filing most of its disclosures with its friends at the Department of Labor (which, due to its mission to produce jobicidal regulations, is about as accurately named as a funeral home called a Department of Life). Unions’ disclosures to the Federal Election Commission, where you would ordinarily seek information about spending on elections, comprise only one-fourth of their total spending on politics.

All political reporters who missed the true figure (which is to say, all political reporters until now) should be nominated for an anti-Pulitzer. Let’s call it the Abel Tasman award, after the explorer who discovered the Australian island of Tasmania but neglected to notice Australia 150 miles away.

Union spending has reached $4.4 billion over six years, not the $1.1 billion previously reported. Even the proletariat favorite the Service Employees International Union, which proudly waves the flag of entry-level employment, proves that you can get very, very rich off of poor people. Its spending jumped from $62 million in 2005 and 2006 to $150 million in 2009 and 2010. And you thought no one but Justin Bieber had gotten richer over the past five years, much less managed to pull off a 142 percent jump in spending.

Moreover, overall union membership continues to decline, so each individual union member is the beneficiary of more per-capita spending than before.The AFL-CIO, for instance, is spending about $52 per union member these days, up from around $39 in 2005-2006.

As the Journal explains, spending by corporations and their employees tends largely to be a wash; some spending tugs left, some pulls to the right, but the net advantage gained tends to be small. In both 2008 and 2010, for instance, spending by corporate PACs went equally to the Left and the Right. Complaining about corporate PAC spending robbing us of our democracy then, would be like complaining about a gang of guilt-stricken bank robbers that cleans out the vaults every Tuesday but then feels bad and restocks them completely on Thursdays.

Not so with unions: 92 percent of their money goes to Democrats. And unions, unlike most other campaign donors, don’t just try to influence the politicians but successfully steer their members into voting as a bloc. Studies suggest that between 68 and 74 percent of union members simply vote as their leadership orders. So if you believe, as Common Cause does, that political spending is worrying to the extent it ”affects public policy and spending priorities,” unions should be the most troubling source of funding.

The labor leaders contacted by the Journal, by the way, don’t deny that the $4.4 billion figure, rather than the previously reported $1.1 billion, is the accurate measure of union spending. The common sentiment is pride, not shame, along with a bit of boasting about the allegedly transparent nature of labor political spending, which was so rigorous in its disclosures that all observers were misled by a factor of 300 percent.

AFSCME’s former political director, Larry Scanlon, told the paper, “It makes sense that our political spending has ramped up over the last year and a half as our members have come under attack like never before.”

Or you might say that a few pro-free market politicians have finally started to fight back against the nonstop attacks on it by the unions, whose operating principle is simply that its members, unlike the other seven-eighths of the population, should be paid more than the marketplace says they are worth. Their success in instead framing the issue as one of “fairness” to the “little guy” leaves them free to impose an ever-increasing tax on everyone who purchases their services, including those who do so involuntarily through the government. Remember that this fall, as you are bombarded with union ads about how their membership in “working families” must continue to enjoy special protections denied the rest of us, at our cost.



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