Posted: Monday, February 23, 2015 6:00 am
REP. BRYAN CUTLER | Special to LNP
It is a principle of good government that electoral politics is 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, along with dozens of our state House colleagues, are introducing to 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 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 when Mary Trometter — a Williamsport resident, college professor and Pennsylvania State Education Association member of 20 years — received a letter at her home shortly before the most recent gubernatorial election. The letter, addressed to her husband, asked him to “join Mary in voting for Tom Wolf for Governor on November 4th.”
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 it frequently denies using dues in support of candidates, the PSEA recently admitted it did, in fact, fund this election mailer with union dues. Union dues make up PSEA’s $100 million annual budget. PSEA now states that it can (and does) use dues to support candidates under the Citizens United Supreme Court case.
More than just union dues collection, our legislation would also end state 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 the campaign accounts of whomever they work for, they would be denied. This is due to laws that prohibit intermingling of state resources and political money.
Yet those same laws offer a loophole for collecting union campaign contributions.
Our legislation wouldn’t prevent public-sector unions from collecting or spending political money or supporting candidates. It would simply require union leaders 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 benefiting teachers. We wholeheartedly support teachers, education and students. And 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 1 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 electoral 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.
State Rep. Bryan Cutler is a Republican from Peach Bottom. This was co-authored by fellow Republican Reps. Jerry Knowles, Schuylkill County; Eli Evankovich, Westmoreland County; and Joe Emrick, Northampton County.