While prospects for campaign finance reform legislation during this session of Congress remain slim at best, politicians are busy pointing the finger of blame and trying to draw lessons from the contentious debate. Polling finds the use of mandatory union dues for political purposes - an issue used simply as a political weapon during the debate over reform - is a key concern of the American people that deserves serious consideration in the future.
During the floor debate over Senators John McCain and Russell Feingold's "Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act" (S. 25), Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott offered an amendment requiring labor unions to get prior approval from members before using mandatory dues to pay for political activities. This would strengthen provisions in the McCain-Feingold bill that only required informing non-union workers who are also forced to pay dues that they could seek a refund. Opponents quickly dubbed the Lott amendment a "poison pill" that led to competing filibusters. The Senate adjourned for its October recess without a final vote on the bill.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll released on October 15 shows strong public support for protections of political choice in the manner advocated by the Lott amendment. Of the over 1,500 adults polled, 82% responded that labor unions should get each member's permission "before using some of the member's union dues for political campaign donations." A feeling of cynicism, however, was also found. Fifty-six percent of those polled said they did not think either party was serious about campaign reform.
Specific legislation does exist to promote political choice. In the Senate, Senator Don Nickles "Paycheck Protection Act" (S. 9) makes it unlawful for both businesses and labor unions to involuntarily collect money from employees, stockholders or members for political activities without explicit consent. Representative Harris Fawell's "Worker Paycheck Fairness Act" (H.R. 1625), which applies only to labor unions, creates the same restrictions as well as establishes a system for penalizing violations. The Fawell bill was marked-up by the House Education and the Work Force Committee on October 8.
An initiative to guarantee political choice for California residents is expected to go before Golden State voters in June of 1998.
The "Campaign Reform Initiative" (CRI) would amend the California Political Reform Act of 1974 to: 1) prohibit political contributions or expenditures from foreign entities; 2) prohibit employers from making automatic payroll deductions to be used for political purposes from any employee who has not given written authorization; and 3) prohibit labor unions from using any portion of a member's dues for political purposes without first receiving written authorization from that member. Written authorization must be obtained by employers and union leaders on an annual basis, and violations are subject to the penalties assigned by existing California laws.
The California Foundation for Campaign Reform is currently collecting the 433,000 valid signatures necessary to place the CRI on the June 2, 1998 primary ballot. The Initiative has the support of Governor Pete Wilson, who is serving as the CRI campaign's honorary chairman. Others supporting the CRI include former Vice President Dan Quayle and U.S. Representative Chris Cox.
Early polling shows strong support for the CRI. In a March, 1997 survey of 800 likely California voters, Arnold Steinberg & Associates found support for the CRI as high as 85% - a majority that did not fall below 72% on any subsequent questions meant to reduce voters' level of support. The poll even found union households favored the Initiative by a margin of four-to-one.
Senator Kennedy Resumes Accepting PAC Money
Senator Edward Kennedy, a supporter of campaign finance reform, announced he will resume accepting donations from political action committees (PACs) as he prepares to run for re-election in 2000. In 1994, he refused PAC donations in a show of support for reform legislation offered at that time. Kennedy spokeswoman Kathy McKiernan told the Associated Press: "Senator Kennedy cannot afford to unilaterally disarm. He will continue to fight for comprehensive reform, but until that becomes closer to becoming reality, he will operate under the rules that exist."
GOP Campaign Head Upbraided by Frequent Contributor
Representative John Linder, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, recently sent a "Dear Colleague" letter to House Republicans to "let [them] know the Association of Realtors has given its maximum contribution" to the Democrat running for the open seat in New York's 13th district, and suggested Republican members take this matter up with local real estate agents. The Association informed Linder that 69% of its 1996 campaign donations went to Republicans, and that "[i]t is unreasonable to expect that [we are] going to support every Republican congressional candidate. Our large and diverse membership is made up of Democrats as well as Republicans, liberals as well as conservatives."
Political Money Monitor is published by The National Center for Public Policy Research to provide information on campaign finance and political choice issues. Coverage of an event or article in Political Money Monitor does not imply endorsement by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Copyright 1997 The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints of articles in Political Money Monitor are permitted provided source is credited. ###
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