Big PAC Attack

Union PACs should raise their own money

The Michigan Legislature is poised to consider a two-bill package that would prohibit unions from using local government payroll systems to collect PAC funds. This is a step that is long overdue. House Bills 5085 and 5086 passed in the state House Thursday.

While the dollar amounts that flow through union PACs are not as huge as those that flow through unions themselves, government union PACs still pack a wallop. According to reports filed with the Secretary of State, the MEA PAC collected more than $500,000 in donations and spent $1.2 million on its political programs in 2010. In spite of the election-year spending, MEA PAC started 2011 with more than $450,000 in the bank. AFSCME’s “P.E.O.P.L.E.” PAC took in $230,000 in contributions during the same year and spent $320,000, ending the year with nearly $80,000.

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This is what is known in political fundraising as “hard” money. Hard money can be spent on nearly anything, including direct contributions to political campaigns. The importance of hard money cannot be overstated. When an outfit called “Citizens Against Government Overreach” led a successful recall campaign against state Rep. Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc, they managed to achieve their success with a warchest of around $150,000. Almost 80 percent of their funds came from the MEA PAC.

We have long argued that government employee unions themselves are essentially political institutions, even while they present themselves as workplace representatives. In reality, little more than half of union dues go to collective bargaining and grievances; in the case of the MEA that portion is as little as a third. But when dealing with union PACs, there isn’t even a pretense of being apolitical. So when union PACs are allowed to tap into local government payroll systems to collect contributions from government employees, there is no argument that the government is giving political fundraisers a hand.

The temptation for unions and local officials to use PAC contributions as a bargaining chip in negotiations is too strong. Union PACs can and should use their own resources to raise funds.