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The Koch Brothers, Unions, and the Democratic Party's Campaign Finance Delusions

2:44 PM, Mar 25, 2014 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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But how are lobbying efforts "preventing anti-union legislation" any different than Exxon lobbying to prevent "anti-energy exploration legislation" that would be harmful and disruptive to that company's reason for being? Not that I'm defending the lobbying efforts of either Exxon or unions, but I fail to see how the disclosure standards for unions should be different than any other special interest.

Of course, the problem here is that Democrats fail to see unions as a special interest, but that's exactly what they are. There are 14.3 million union members -- about 11.3 percent of the workforce. And the majority of union members now belong to public sector unions. In living memory, radical conservatives such as FDR and the head of the AFL-CIO were opposed to public sector unions because they saw that collective bargaining with the taxpayer was an inherently corrupting process. So what's good for unions has now become bad for the vast majority of the American people, who now have to foot the bill for the overly generous benefits enjoyed by public sector unions -- benefits that were lobbied for using taxpayer-funded salaries. And private sector unions haven't shown much less contempt for the taxpayer. Not that long ago, they were lobbying for $160 billion bailout of bankrupt union pension plans.

But liberals like Reich argue that "union money at least comes from large numbers of workers seeking higher pay and better working conditions." Jonathan Cohn at the New Republic echoes this argument that union political spending is somehow more legitimate and democratic because it comes from a large number of people:

There are 14.5 million people in the labor movement, according to the latest government statistics. There are exactly two people in the Koch brotherhood—Charles and David Koch—plus another 350 or so self-identified Koch employees who, over that same time period, made direct campaign contributions. Extrapolate from that math, and you’ll see that the donation per Koch Industries affiliate positively dwarfs the donation per union member—by a factor of around 1,000, give or take.

This is a ludicrous argument, because union dues are collected via coercive means. Of the 14.3 million union members, how many would rather not spend their dues on national politics (or pay dues at all)? We could test this proposition by making union dues and political spending completely voluntary, but unions will never go for it. There's ample evidence showing that union political coffers and membership would decline precipitously if that were allowed. After Scott Walker's collective bargaining reforms in Wisconsin, union membership in Wisconsin dropped dramatically. George Will notes that Wisconsin is hardly unique

After Colorado in 2001 required public employees unions to have annual votes reauthorizing collection of dues, membership in the Colorado Association of Public Employees declined 70 percent. In 2005, Indiana stopped collecting dues from unionized public employees; in 2011, there are 90 percent fewer dues-paying members. In Utah, the end of automatic dues deductions for political activities in 2001 caused teachers’ payments to fall 90 percent.

And in the few instances where union members were asked specifically to approve their dues going to politics, the results are damning. After a 1992 law passed in Washington, the state teachers union -- an NEA affiliate -- was required to get written approval from every teacher to get donations for the union's political action committee. The result? "Enrollment in the PAC plunged from 49,000 to 11,000 in just a year. Its annual receipts fell from roughly $588,000 to $132,000." It's also worth mentioning that the NRA has 4.5 million members -- all of whom pay dues voluntarily! And yet, no Democrats, as far as I can tell, are saying criticism of the group's political spending is illegitimate because the organization is so large as to confer a degree of representative legitimacy.

Believing that the Democrats have far fewer corrupting influences is central to the party's self-image, and, ironically, their fundraising efforts. But the party of unions, trial lawyers, and Wall Street is living in delusion. The constant untruths and exaggerations about the Koch brothers' influence is about maintaining that fiction so Democrats can feel good about their rank hypocrisy, their self-righteous attacks, and coercive methods of financing elections. It has very little to do with genuine concern about rich people buying elections.

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