February 25, 1998
Trend-setting California is about to show us
real campaign finance reform. On June 2,
Californians will vote on the Campaign Reform
Initiative (CRI), also called the Paycheck Protection
Plan, which, if passed, will prohibit monies from
being automatically taken out of workers' paychecks
for political purposes without their written consent.
You mean such shenanigans are actually going on?
Yes. Unions currently use the dues and other funds
withheld from the paychecks of their members for
political campaigns decided by the union officials,
not by the employees from whom the money is
involuntarily (some say surreptitiously) taken.
Millions of dollars earned by union members are
thus spent on partisan politics. These funds are
spent about 95 percent on Democratic Party candidates
and initiatives, even though surveys show that at
least a third of union members vote Republican.
Union officials are completely free to pursue
their own politics and thumb their noses at their
members. California unions spent $12 to $15 million
on political candidates and causes in 1996, and they
are planning to spend $20 to $30 million to defeat
In one of the more egregious examples, the
Teamsters gave $195,000 to the 1996 campaign to
legalize medical marijuana in California. In 1993,
the California Teachers Association spent $12 million
of members' dues to defeat Proposition 174, the
Most Americans haven't protested this outrage
because they don't know about it. Most union members
don't protest because it isn't career-smart to bite
their boss's hand.
Unions collect billions (not just millions) of
dollars every year in mandatory dues and fees from
their members. Employers facilitate this whopping
windfall by doing all the clerical work necessary to
deduct these "contributions" from individual
employees before they ever get their hands on their
CRI would prohibit employers from making
automatic deductions (called a checkoff) from any
employee's pay for political contributions or
expenditures without annual, written authorization.
As one of the Orange County authors described it, CRI
is based on the simple premise that, "If you want to
take someone else's money to fund your political
campaign, you're going to have to get their
In addition to the checkoff for transfers to
political funds, CRI prohibits unions from using any
portion of a member's dues for political purposes
without each member's annual, written authorization.
The designated form for the "Authorization for
Political Use of Fees" must contain the disclaimer
that the employee is "not obligated to sign" and that
it is "completely voluntary" and cannot "affect your
CRI is modeled after a similar initiative that
was passed by Washington state in 1992 with a 72
percent majority. The teachers unions are so
powerful at the 50 state capitols that only one state
legislature, Michigan's, has been able to pass a
state law to accomplish this goal.
Public opinion surveys show overwhelming support
for giving union members the choice of whether or not
to fund their union's political activities. The
Washington Post/ABC News poll reported 82 percent
support, CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll reported 72
percent support, and the California Field poll
reported 66 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of
union members in favor.
In the 1996 election, the national union spent
$35 million of their members' money on TV advertising
to smear Republican candidates. However, that was
only the tip of the iceberg.
Rutgers University Economics Professor Leo Troy
told the House Oversight Committee that he estimates
that the total of unregulated in-kind political
expenditures by the unions in 1996 was actually $300
to $500 million. This vast sum came out of the pot
of $8 billion that the unions collect in dues each
year (an average of $500 from each of 16 million
In 1988 in Communications Workers v. Beck, the
Supreme Court held that union members have the right
to object to union officials collecting and spending
union dues for political purposes or for reasons
unrelated to collective bargaining. It wasn't until
1992 that President George Bush issued an executive
order requiring government contractors to post
notices informing their employees of this right, and
one of Bill Clinton's first acts as President was to
repeal Bush's order.
The Beck right is effectively unenforceable.
Surveys show that 78 percent of union members do not
know that they have the right to get a refund for the
portion of their mandatory dues spent on political
The chairman of the CRI campaign is Indiana
businessman J. Patrick Rooney, who is widely known as
the father of Medical Savings Accounts and one of the
leaders of the school choice movement. He may also
become known as the Father of Paycheck Protection.
Thomas Jefferson warned us, "To compel a man to
furnish contributions of money for the propagation of
opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and
tyrannical." Right on, Mr. Jefferson!