Clinton Should Support Employee Rights Act

This op-ed column was originally published at

Rick Berman, CUF Executive Director

At a pit stop in Iowa a couple weekends ago, Hillary Clinton spoke out on campaign finance reform, “We can’t let Republicans keep rigging our elections with secret, unaccountable, dark money.” The theme of so-called “dark money” influencing elections has been a major Democratic hobby horse for a few years now.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

New labor union financial filings show that Democrats and left-wing organizations are among the biggest recipients of special interest money. And Richard Trumka’s AFL-CIO, a federation for 56 unions, should be Public Enemy No. 1.

In fiscal year 2015, Trumka’s umbrella group collected nearly $80 million in membership payments and spent more than $44 million of it on political activities and lobbying. The overwhelming majority of that cash went to Democratic candidates and liberal causes. In the meantime, more than 175 AFL-CIO employees took home six-figure incomes. Trumka’s chief of staff pocketed $202,808 in salary and benefits last year — while many union workers around the country barely cracked minimum wage.

A closer look shows exactly how union money funds Democrats and left-wing groups. On top of the $440,000 in direct campaign contributions its PAC sent to 2014 Democratic congressional candidates, the AFL-CIO spent millions in dues money to bankroll political consultants inside the Beltway.

More than $8 million, in fact. AFL-CIO executives funneled member dues to dozens of consulting firms with one apparent goal: elect Democrats and propagate liberal causes. Take Petel and Company, which received $1.26 million to distribute direct mail packets for Clinton and other Democrats. Or Pivot Group, recipients of $1.12 million — the firm develops promotional strategies for Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club.

What about the $1.56 million check to New Partners Consulting, a campaign strategy firm serving the Democratic National Committee? Or the $630,000 payment to The New Media Firm, which ran pro-Obama TV spots in 2008 and 2012? Companies such as these have nothing to do with securing higher pay and improved benefits for employees.

What’s more, the AFL-CIO disguises millions of dollars in political contributions by labeling cash bundles “Representational Activities,” which — one would think — should be reserved for actually representing employees in negotiations with their employers. But, over the past year, $4.5 million in dues money was deemed “representational” and sent to Working America, the union’s in-house grassroots lobbying group, which is proud to have “passed the Affordable Care Act,” according to its website.

There would be nothing wrong with such blatant partisanship if the AFL-CIO’s 12.5 million members actually signed off on it.

But they didn’t. And not all union members are “Ready for Hillary.”

Exit polls indicate that about 40 percent of union households vote Republican, even though around 90 percent of union dollars are used to support Democrats and leftist movements. This sizable minority shouldn’t be forced to support liberal candidates and causes that they don’t believe in.

Fortunately, there is legislation in Congress that would free them from this outrage. It’s called the Employee Rights Act. Sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, the ERA would require union bosses to seek affirmative consent before using membership contributions on politics and lobbying. This paycheck protection provision is supported by eight out of 10 Americans, and seven out of 10 union households. The bill also has several other provisions that would update labor law for the 21st century and dramatically strengthen employee freedoms in the process.

Hillary Clinton and other Democrats can talk all they want about special interests, but it’s time for them to embrace some introspection. And they needn’t look further than the Big Labor “dark money” ATM.

The Employee Rights Act would guarantee union members aren’t forced to keep filling that ATM.