Oregon’s Public Employee Unions and Pay-to-Play

Right From the Start

Right From the Start

Sunday’s Oregonian carried an article on political contributions by corporations authored by David Sirota, a writer for web-based PandoDaily. Mr. Sirota is not a journalist or editorialist for the Oregonian nor for any of the wire services or major news services routinely used by the Oregonian. I point this out to demonstrate that the Oregonian had to go out searching for this one-sided article reflective of the general anti-business attitude of the Oregonian.

The essence of this article is to criticize Republicans for challenging the Security Exchange Commission’s prohibitions against corporate contributions from Wall Street investment firms who manage state pension and investment funds. These prohibitions are often referred to as “pay-to-play” prohibitions.

The bias of the author shows in his summary of the lawsuits filed by various state Republican parties and other interested parties:

“The GOP lawsuit aims to stop that promise from becoming a reality. In predicating that suit on a First Amendment argument, those Republicans are forwarding a disturbing legal theory: Essentially, they are arguing that Wall Street has a constitutional right to influence politicians and the investment decisions those politicians make on behalf of pensions.

“If that theory is upheld by the courts, it will no doubt help Republican presidential candidates raise lots of financial-industry cash. But it could also mean that public pension contracts will now be for sale to the highest bidder.” [Emphasis supplied.]

There are so many problems with this article that is difficult to recount them all. But, in large part, they all boil down to a “lack of symmetry.” For instance, no mention is made that in the 2008 presidential election, the primary beneficiary of Wall Street contributions was President Barack Obama who also continued to receive handsome contributions in the 2012 presidential election and who frequently targets Wall Street barons for high wattage private, fund raising dinners held by Mr. Obama seemingly on a weekly basis. No mention is made of the $300,000 payments made to probable Democrat presidential contender Hillary Clinton for “speeches” as she tours the nation in an attempt to establish her “bona fides.” (There are certainly no significant insights or strategies that Ms. Clinton brings to these speeches which are rich in bromides and slogans and total devoid of substance and clarity.) No, these payments are to buy access and they have been hugely successful in the cases of Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton, but anti-Republican advocates woefully miss inclusion of Democrat activities in their condemnations.

But the real ‘elephant in the room” that Mr. Sirota ignores in the public employee unions.

Let’s use Oregon’s public employees unions as an example. Each election cycle the State of Oregon and its political subdivisions (counties, cities, school districts and regional authorities) collect and remit on a quarterly basis somewhere in excess of $130 Million to Oregon’s public employee unions. Ostensibly, the money collected is for dues to the public employee unions for use in traditional union activities such as organizing, collective bargaining and contract maintenance.

The public employees unions enjoy what is known as an “agency shop” arrangement with state and local governments – that means that you are required to join the union once you are employed by the state or local government agency. There are provisions for employees to decline membership – seldom used because of the barriers imposed by the unions – but even at that, the employee declining membership must still pay dues for “representation” by the union. There are other provisions that allow both members and non-members to decline to participate in “political activities” of the unions – seldom used again because of the barriers imposed by the unions – but even at that those declining participation must still pay for political activities that are not required to be reported under political disclosure rules.

And here’s the rub – it mirrors Mr. Sirota’s concerns about “pay to play.” Oregon’s public employees unions support almost exclusively Democrats. (There are rare instances when small amounts are contributed to Republicans or Independents in uncontested races or races in which polling demonstrates that the Democrat candidate will lose by a substantial margin.) This “exclusive” relationship is so dominant that the public employee unions are widely recognized as the financial arm of the Oregon Democrat Party. And the result is that today in Oregon every statewide elective office is held by a Democrat, all of whom have been the recipients of the public employees’ unions reportable and non-reportable largesse.

When the public employee unions sit down to negotiate a contract they are not dealing with a management with independent interests. Instead they are dealing with a management structure that owes their election in large part to the public employee unions participation. It is of little import, for instance, that the governor does not engage directly in contract negotiations because it is his appointees that do, and each of them recognizes the importance of abiding the unions interests to the governor’s (and collaterally to their) continuation in office. Pay-to-play in its rawest form. Not only do the government managers not have independent interests, they are dealing with someone else’s money – the taxpayers, with which they are demonstrably wasteful – and therefore have little incentive to bargain hard.

And it is more than just salary that is the subject of these negotiations. There are the patterns of raises. In many instance these come two a year – one a cost of living and the other a time-in-place” commonly referred to a “step increases.” They include work rules most of which are designed to limit production and thus require more employees than needed. They include benefits – Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) and healthcare – which most private sector employers acknowledge as being overly generous. And they include the requirement that the government entity pay the wages of certain members who will devote all of their time to union activities as opposed to agency activities.

But it is not just the pay-to-play elements of the public employee unions that are offensive. It is the requirement that public employees are forced into mandatory financial participation in a whole host of political activities undertaken as the primary focus of the public employees unions. Public employees can only avoid the political activities of the union that are subject to campaign finance requirements of state law. The vast majority of the activities which are political in nature and provide the underlying framework for all of the unions’ political activities are not reportable and therefore are unavoidable under the mandatory financial participation requirements of the “agency shop.”

Among these activities are:

  • Candidate recruitment. This is the process of identifying and selecting Democrat candidates for pubic office. The process includes identifying, recruiting, interviewing, educating, testing and vetting potential candidates for specific offices and occurs throughout the entire state.
  • Opposition research. This process has two parts. The first is to undertake the negative investigation of Democrat candidates to determine if there are any vulnerabilities as well as the means for inoculating the candidate against any such vulnerabilities. The second is to undertake the negative investigation of those opposing the Democrat candidates. Both of these require research in public records, criminal records, newspaper accounts and now, frequently, social media. It is time consuming and expensive.
  • Issue identification. Support or opposition for a candidate is subject to campaign reporting requirements but identifying and supporting or opposing issues that may coincide with the candidate’s interests are not reportable. More and more the public employee unions engage in issue identification and advocacy in support of the position of candidates. The advertising costs are substantial.
  • Issues polling. Polling of support or opposition for a candidate is subject to campaign reporting requirement but polling with regard to issues which coincide with the candidates interests are not reportable. Polling, regardless of purpose, is expensive and the sophistication of polling methodologies and results has made it even more so.
  • Get out the vote. This is the process by which voters favorable to the unions’ position are identified and targeted to ensure that they vote to the exclusion of others. Over eight years ago a conservative campaign advisor told me that the cost of replicating the public employee unions get-out-the-vote efforts would cost in the neighborhood of $2.5 million for each election. Since that time the use of social media and data mining have made that process even more expensive, more sophisticated and more useful – as demonstrated by both of Mr. Obama’s presidential runs. There is no group available to Republicans or Independents that can replicate the unions’ activities in this area on a repetitive basis.
  • Data mining of voters. The use of social media and the data mining techniques of companies like Microsoft, Google and Facebook have allowed political operatives to dissect the voting populace in order to influence their vote. Nobody does is better in Oregon than the public employee unions. The cost is large and results are phenomenal.
  • Post-election analysis. After the actual election and based upon voter turnouts and post-election polling, the process begins again in selecting candidates, issues and messages.

These functions are costly, require vast financial and human resources AND go unreported. As such they are subject to the mandatory financing requirements of an agency shop and cannot be avoided by public employees who may oppose the political goals of the public employee unions and its candidates.

There is no comparison between the mandatory financial support required of public employees and the use of corporate resources to fund political activities. In the latter case you can either refuse to purchase the company’s products or refuse to purchase the company’s stock. As to the former, your only recourse is to lose your employment.

So before you get all high and mighty about whether Wall Street can bribe its way into managing pension funds, you might want to consider there are already laws, short of denying them free speech that address the issue. In contrast, the public employee unions are free to extract financial support for their political activities through mandatory dues participation from members and non-members alike – all with the full assistance and resources of the government to collect and remit that support on a quarterly basis.

There’s no question as to which is more venal.

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Bill of Rights, First Amendment, Free Speech, PERS, Public Employee Unions, State Government, Unions, Voting | 33 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Bob Clark

    This is an article to keep in the file, as it enumerates pretty well the uneven playing field of Oregon’s state and local politics.

    It is also very telling a lot of Oregon businesses seeing they can’t beat the regime, join it; especially considering the regime spends lavishly on most whatever it does, sharply benefiting those companies that play along. Once more, politicos benefit; because the unspoken deal is these companies and interests can give those exiting the official offices of the regime, great cushy jobs.

    Much of the news media is there to provide distraction to the unassuming Jane and Joe Doe, leading them around by the nose with one ginned up distraction after another.

  • Jack Lord God

    One thing I will never understand is if you scroll through a Facebook feed, you will see endless decrying of “Corporations are people” and elivation of the Supreme Courts Citizen United decision to that of a modern day Dred Scott.

    Yet if you ask anyone who is all up in arms about this, at best you will hear vague references to Monsanto and obscure GMO laws that you really have to be on Howard Zinns email list to see how the hell they affect you. I get it, some GMO corn might be in a Dorito chip and that GMO corn might somehow in the future be demonstrated to cause cancer and Monsanto got an exemption and oh my God that is so evil Soylent Green is People!

    But when it comes to Public Employee unions the evidence is there, known to all, and really affects everyone. Teachers who can’t be fired. Weird administrators of obscure or questionable agencies getting six figure salaries with zero responsibility thumb twiddling jobs.

    Somehow corporate money is a clear and present danger to our nation, yet union money, with its far broader and more damaging affect remains untouchable to those who rail against the former.

    God knows why. I think what it really comes down to is these people don’t actually care about money affecting politics. They are fine with money affecting politics so long as it furthers their agenda, as with union money tending to expand government.

    SO when someone brings up the evil corporate money argument, say you are fine with limiting it, how do they feel about union money? If they answer that should be limited as well, then you can have a conversation. If they say that’s different, get up, walk away, talk to the hand.

    • Eric Blair

      “Weird administrators of obscure or questionable agencies getting six figure salaries with zero responsibility thumb twiddling jobs.

      Administrators, by and large, are not members of public employee unions.

      And lets have that conversation because I do happen to believe that if you limit corporate money in politics, then you should also limit union money in politics.

      • Jack Lord God

        >Administrators, by and large, are not members of public employee unions.

        They certainly benifit from union actions however. The top beneficiaries of PERS tend to be administrators so certainly their interests are aligned.

        > I do happen to believe that if you limit corporate money in politics, then you should also limit union money in politics.

        If you are for limiting both then fine, you have a logically tenable position.

    • Oregon Outpost

      You are absolutely right that the public employee unions support Citizens United.

      I posted the following article about “Our Oregon”. The Public employee and dark money non profit political organization that opposes Move to Amend.

      http://www.oregonoutpost.com/oregon-citizens-united/

      You should have heard the crickets from the Democratic insiders when that was posted to Blue Oregon. When they did bother to comment it was things like…”Interesting” and “Well, we will have to wait to see what Our Oregon thinks about it”.

      Really? if the Exec Dir. of Our Oregon supports the Citizens United Decision, I am pretty durn sure that was a Board decision, he didn’t go hire an expensive law firm out of his own pocket.

      The Democratic party progressives are in a state of denial on this. The public employee unions are pushing them all over the place and they’ve lost control. The Democratic platform in Oregon is only operative to the extent the public employee unions – speaking through Our Oregon – consent.

  • Sally

    Not only can’t we be fired, but we work less and less each year for more and more money. It is a racket, I’ll admit, but being on the receiving end is pretty nice. I actually teach students less than 5 hours a day of in class time…everything else is prep time and lunch time and passing time and break time. I work less than 175 days a year…a lot of holidays off, non-holidays off (state in-service), summers off, teacher conference days off, etc., etc., and I make 70,000 not including benefits. I did go to college, but it wasn’t that hard to major in ed if you know what I am saying.
    So, all in all, a pretty nice deal. Who else do you know in the private sector who makes that kind of dough for working essentially half of the time at best??? Any my retirement is not bad…not bad at all.

    • A real teacher

      Sally, obviously you are not an actual teacher and I know tons of private sector workers that work what you say are your ‘hours’ (often from home) and make 2-3 times your salary. True they work more days than the 180 days an average teacher works, but they also get to take their PTO whenever they want. Under what schedule can you teach less than five hours? Best schedule I had as a teacher was on a trimester schedule where there were only 5 periods a day. You had to teach four of the five periods and each period was almost 80 minutes (more than 5 hours). Prepping for a class that long was a challenge. Add in the subject area meetings, the grade level meetings, the staff meetings, the iep and 504 meetings along with time for prep and grading and I’d like to see anyone do that in ‘less than 5 hours’. Most real teachers don’t take a lot of time off during the school year as writing sub instructions is a pain in the ……..And of course ANY teacher can be fired! To say that they can’t means you really don’t know anything about really being a teacher.

  • wfecht

    IMO the analysis of the bottom line is that the voters have no choice of candidates. Every one at all levels local, state and federal is choosen by a select group to promote their agenda. I anyone wants to simply run because they think it is their civic duty has no chance of getting past the primary. The Party selects candidates, the union/corporation selects candidates, a person cannot get past either one unless fully vetted in the mindset of the Party or union/corporation. say anything contrary that makes sense to voters and you will be marginalized by the media, talking heads and the Party. Think Ron Paul. So where is democracy? when do we the people get to choose. I have been observing political races since LBJ and by the end of the first six months of campaining for the primary you cna tell exactly who will be on the final ballot. and the higher the level local vs state, state vs federalall candidates become the same with the same agenda. Oh yes Democracy is Mob Rule.

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