Paycheck Protection is About Morality, Not Cost
1/16/2015
It is a principle of good government that electoral politics are not mixed with official government business. Yet state and local governments in Pennsylvania continue to collect political campaign funds on behalf of public-sector unions—and only public-sector unions. This is wrong and must change.
 
That is the heart of legislation we are introducing, along with dozens of our state House colleagues, which would end the collection of union political money using taxpayer resources.
 
When we sponsored similar legislation last year, we heard from many union members that their dues cannot be used for politics. But the reality is, unions representing state workers and public school employees spend millions of dollars from each year on “politics and lobbying.” We know this because unions must report their political spending to the U.S. Department of Labor.
 
The issue crystallized recently when Mary Trometter—a resident of Central Pennsylvania, a college professor and a Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) member of 20 years—received a letter at her home shortly before the most recent gubernatorial election. The letter was addressed to her husband and asked him to “… join Mary in voting for Tom Wolf for Governor on November 4th.”
 
The production of the letter was funded, in part, with Mary’s union dues through a “Super PAC.” Mary neither authorized the use of her name, nor was she voting for Mr. Wolf. Her dues money—collected by the taxpayers and exploited for political purposes—was used against her knowledge and against her will.
 
Though they frequently deny using dues in support of candidates, the Pennsylvania State Education Association recently admitted they did in fact fund this election mailer with union dues. Union dues comprise PSEA’s $100 million annual budget. PSEA now states that they can (and do) use dues to support candidates under the Citizen’s United Supreme Court case.
 
More than just dues, our legislation would also end government collection of voluntary campaign contributions. This is blatantly political money—and, unlike union dues, it can be given directly to candidates.
 
We should not use government resources to collect any political money. In fact, it is illegal for the state to collect campaign money for anyone except government unions.
 
If our House of Representatives employees wanted to have direct deposits made to campaign accounts to support whomever they work for, they would be denied. This is due to the laws that prohibit intermingling of state resources and political money.
 
Yet those same laws offer a loophole for collecting union campaign contributions.
 
Our legislation doesn’t prevent public-sector unions from collecting or spending political money or supporting candidates. It would simply mean union leaders have to collect political money the way everyone else does—without taxpayer support and directly from political donors, with their permission and consent.
 
Some union leaders have claimed legislation ending union dues deductions from teachers’ paychecks would destroy an organization benefitting teachers. We wholeheartedly support teachers, education and students.
 
Far from harming unions, our legislation would make them more accountable to teachers and workers by requiring them to collect campaign contributions directly—giving union members a bigger say in how their own money is spent.
 
Moreover, we cannot support the argument that government should collect political money for unions simply because the cost of deducting union dues from teachers' paychecks is negligible. Even one cent of government money used for politics is too much and is a violation of the law in any other context.
 
Ending the collection of union campaign contributions and dues that can be used for politics is a matter of morality: It is wrong to mix election politics with government resources.
 
In the light of calls for ethics reform in state government, we hope our colleagues will join us in passing paycheck protection.
 
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