How Government Union Dues Subsidize Partisan Politics

The 2016 election cycle reveals big spending from big labor, according to a report released by the National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILRR).

NILRR discovered $1.7 billion in union political spending during the 2016 election cycle, compiling union dues spending, “soft money” expenditures, and political action committee (PAC) contributions. We have long highlighted the political influence of government unions in Pennsylvania politics, including the impact of national unions upon state races. For instance, Katie McGinty received $5.3 million in PAC contributions for her U.S. Senate campaign.

Yet, this report highlights the unique advantage unions use to surpass other political spenders: membership dues. Of the nearly $2 billion in union political spending, $1.3 billion came directly from members' dues. And government unions sat at the top of the list of dues-funded spenders, enjoying the membership fees of Pennsylvania teachers and state workers.

Dues earmarked for political activities can be spent on political mailers and communications to members, support for candidates, contributions to special-interest organizations, even contributions to SuperPACs.

However, this still doesn’t capture the true cost of union political spending. As NILRR writes:

USDOL reports do not require all unions to file reports. In fact, the fastest growth has been in unions that exclusively “represent” state and local government employees which are not covered by USDOL disclosure reports. Therefore, the USDOL numbers exclude most of the state and municipal employee unions.

Further, in reports filed with the Department of Labor, government unions label seeming political expenditures as “Contributions, Gifts and Grants,” “Representational Activities,” or “Union Administration,” thus obscuring the extent of political spending.

For instance, SEIU locals gave $318,000 to the Fight for $15 Campaign to raise the minimum wage, while national affiliates sent millions to organizations such as the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, the Progressive Agenda Committee, and Planned Parenthood, none of which were categorized under political activities. Scroll through the table below for a more comprehensive sampling of such collective bargaining spending in 2016, as well as dues spending correctly reported as “Political Activities & Lobbying.”    

Some government unions have cut staff to counteract the burden of this political spending. Meanwhile, union members’ have no vote in how this dues money is spent prior to it being deducted directly from their paychecks.

What's worse? In Pennsylvania, taxpayers funded the collection of the dues and PAC money that was sent to the nearly $2 billion union war chest. 

Paycheck protection legislation would rectify this misuse of public resources. As unions act as undeniable political heavyweights across the nation, it’s time for Pennsylvania's representatives to prohibit the use of taxpayer money to collect government unions' political funds.