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Wall Street Journal


Big Labor's Big Victories in State Elections

November 17, 2012

By Steven Malanga

How Citizens United allowed unions to spend heavily both for President Obama and against promising local reform efforts.

Kicking off his recent campaign to raise taxes via Proposition 30, California Gov. Jerry Brown cited the New Testament warning that of those to "whom much is given, much will be asked." He meant that the rich should pay more taxes, but his statement proved true in a different way: In successfully pushing for the governor’s initiative, California’s rich and powerful government unions spent tens of millions of dollars on advertising and getting out the vote.

California’s tax hike was but one example of how, despite spending $400 million to help re-elect President Obama, America’s labor unions had plenty of money to pour into crucial state campaigns. In many of these campaigns, labor thwarted efforts to cut taxes, rolled back laws it disliked, and generally cemented its reputation as the leading defender of big government at the state and local levels.

The campaign for Prop. 30 attracted $120 million in spending by both sides, according to the National Institute for Money in State Politics. Of the four top supporters of the tax hike, three were government unions: The California Teachers Association gave $11.5 million, the Service Employees International Union (which represents 350,000 government workers in the state) kicked in $10.7 million, and the American Federation of Teachers put up another $4.2 million. The only nonunion among the biggest givers: California’s Democratic Party, which spent $5.1 million supporting the take hike.

California unions simultaneously spent heavily to defeat Proposition 32, which would have banned them from using automatically deducted dues for political purposes. Labor contributed about 90% of the $62 million spent to defeat Prop. 32, including $21 million from the California Teachers Association and $13 million from the SEIU.

Elsewhere on the West Coast, the union-created group Our Oregon engineered a successful ballot initiative eliminating that state’s unique tax refunds, which had returned money to businesses when corporate-tax collections exceed budget projections. The state’s budget office estimates that the union victory will cost Oregon businesses nearly $500 million over the next eight years, as former tax refunds will now flow into the state’s education budget.

The same labor coalition also beat back an effort by small business groups to repeal Oregon’s inheritance tax, portraying beneficiaries of the proposed tax cut as privileged. "It comes down to who needs help the most," a spokesman for the union group told the press. "Is it a third grader who’s stuck in an overcrowded classroom and is missing out on the education that we all expect she should have? . . . Or is it the richest two percent?"

Then there were labor’s successes in turning back recent school-reform efforts. In Idaho, the National Education Association and its local affiliate spent $3.4 million on an initiative rescinding 2011 laws limiting collective bargaining for teachers and ending teacher tenure. Similarly, teachers unions in South Dakota overturned a new law that had installed merit pay in schools, outspending the law’s backers (including StudentsFirst, the group led by former Washington, D.C., Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee) by a ratio of 5 to 1.

Unions in Michigan dealt reform efforts a setback of another type. National attention had focused on labor’s ultimately unsuccessful effort to enshrine collective-bargaining rights in the state constitution. But Michigan’s government unions reserved $2 million for a successful campaign to roll back Gov. Rick Snyder’s emergency financial manager’s law, which had granted state-appointed administrators broad powers to oversee the budgets of failing municipalities. Unions opposed the law because troubled cities such as Detroit had used it to restructure labor agreements.

Said Detroit Mayor Dave Bing about labor’s campaign: "It’s a waste of money, it’s a waste of time, and it’s going to keep us from moving our agenda forward." Mr. Bing added that he expected a barrage of lawsuits from unions attempting to roll back budget reforms made under the now-rescinded law.

One reason labor could fight these state battles while also spending so heavily on the presidential campaign was the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which held that unions could use members’ dues money to deliver political messages to nonunion voters. Previously, unions could target those voters only with funds from voluntary donations. The difference, labor leaders have claimed, helped President Obama win key swing states.

Yet labor continues to claim that Citizens United, which also lifted corporate restrictions on independent political spending, really benefits big business. "We don’t have anyone that can drop $10 million in a single state," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said this summer about the case.

Perhaps Mr. Trumka wasn’t paying attention to how much his own affiliates and their allies actually spent in the states this year.

Original Source:



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