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Campaign Finance Reform Foes Use Union Dues as Red Herring

April 12, 2000

Campaign Finance Reform Foes Use Union Dues
as Red Herring

Soft Money Ban Would Not Empower Unions and Democrats, or Weaken Business and Republicans, Public Citizen President Says

WASHINGTON, DC — A popular notion advanced by foes of campaign finance reform — that a soft money ban would elevate the power of unions and weaken pro-business forces — is baseless, Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook told lawmakers in testimony delivered Wednesday.

In her testimony to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, Claybrook laid out four key arguments in response to opponents of the kind of campaign finance reforms contained in the McCain-Feingold and Shays-Meehan legislation. Those opponents have said that soft money — unlimited contributions from corporations, unions, special interest groups and individuals — should not be banned without curbing the use of union dues for partisan union political campaigns. Otherwise, these opponents say, pro-business forces will be weakened, and union-supported Democratic candidates will swamp Republicans.

“The argument is a complete fallacy that simply doesn?t stand up to the facts,” Claybrook said. “Hyping the power of the political opposition may be a good fund-raising tactic. But it doesn?t make for good public policy.”

Claybrook testified in response to various so-called “paycheck protection” proposals from Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that aim to stop unions from spending any of their members? dues on political campaigns and activities without individual authorization. Opponents of most major campaign finance reform measures insist on attaching such “paycheck protection” proposals to campaign finance bills as a poison pill to kill the legislation.

Public Citizen is in a unique position to critique these proposals because for 25 years its Litigation Group has represented dissidents in labor unions to protect internal democracy.

In her testimony, Claybrook noted that:

* Even without soft money, pro-business forces maintain an overwhelming advantage over pro-union ones in contributions to candidates and parties and in lobbying expenditures. Contributions data back this up: During the 1998 election cycle, individuals and PACs associated with business outspent those affiliated with labor unions by 10 to 1. This figure does not include soft money.

* Even without soft money, Republicans have a large advantage over Democrats when it comes to campaign contributions. Again, data show that not including soft money, Republicans in 1998 outraised Democrats by $734 million to $533 million during the 1998 election cycle.

* Pro-business and pro-Republican groups, as well as labor unions, under the law can use their treasuries only in limited ways to ask their members to support partisan organizational campaigns. In fact, overwhelmingly pro-Republican groups such as the National Rifle Association and National Federation of Independent Businesses are increasingly conducting substantial member political mobilization activities. Other groups, from all sides of the political spectrum, are using Section 527 organizations to appeal to the general public in elections.

* It is misleading to brand labor unions? use of member dues for political purposes as “compelled speech.” The law is clear that no worker in the U.S. can be required to pay for any union expenses other than those associated with collective bargaining, grievance adjustment and contract administration. Workers are free to join or not join unions. Those who choose to become union members are in the exact same position as members of the NRA or U.S. Chamber of Commerce who may disagree with their organization?s political choices. But no one has called for legislation to protect members of these groups from “compelled speech.”