Political Money Monitor
Free Choice for a Free People
* Liberals Already Exploiting
As some senators prepare to filibuster proposed campaign finance regulations, congressional Democrats are already making moves to exploit the loopholes contained within the legislation.
During the House of Representatives debate on the Shays-Meehan regulations, which passed the House by a vote of 240-189 on February 14, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) assured wavering Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members that he would raise money for groups like the NAACP - that were involved in election-related activities in past election cycles - to gain their support for the bill.
Major provisions of the Shays-Meehan regulations include a ban on non-candidate "soft money" donations to national political parties and limit issue advertising prior to elections. The new regulations do allow politicians to raise money for "nonpartisan" organizations in $20,000 increments. Gephardt told CBC members he would raise money to fund NAACP and Southwest Voter Project voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts. During the 2000 presidential campaign, NAACP ads criticizing then-Governor Bush's civil rights record were criticized as being overtly partisan and favoring the Democratic Party.
Explaining the loophole to The Hill, Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL) said: "I would formulate voter education and registration projects that would be funded by people like myself. We can go to all the people that we know. There's no limit on nonprofit organizations." Republican fundraiser Matt Keelan responded, "It's disgusting. They're crying for reform when they're already cutting deals with tax-exempt organizations like the NAACP that were playing politics in the 2000 election."
In the Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) hopes to put together a colaition of at least 41 senators to maintain a Senate filibuster to keep the regulations from being submitted to the White House, thus keeping them from becoming law. President Bush has not said if he will veto the new regulations.
Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO) introduced the "Worker's Freedom of Choice Act" on January 25 to "ensure that labor dues and fees are used only for collective bargaining purposes and exclusive representation." This protection was not included in the Shays-Meehan campaign finance regulations.
If a union member's dues are used for purposes other that the "core" purposes of "collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance adjustment," the bill would allow the member to take the union leadership to court. A member could get back ten times the amount confiscated, interest on the amount taken and union leaders could be forced to pay up to $1,000 in punitive damages and face the revocation of any tax-exempt status held by the union.
Tancredo said: "It is a fundamental tenet of this nation that all men and women have a right to make individual choices about the political, social or char-itable causes they support... [F]orced or coerced support violates basic notions of our First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of expression."
AFL-CIO Planning to Increase Member Dues to Fund Political Action
AFL-CIO leaders plan to spend $35 million this year on political issue advertising, get-out-the-vote efforts and convincing union members to vote for the candidates and causes endorsed by labor leaders. Since they do not already have the cash set aside, a dues increase for the rank-and-file membership to pay for these political expenditures is being proposed. Prohibiting the use of union dues for political action without a member's prior approval is not covered by the campaign finance regulations recently passed by Congress.
New Colorado Paycheck Protection Rule Having Profound Effect
An executive order issued by Colorado Governor Bill Owens in May 2001 stopped government authorities from withholding union dues from state employee paychecks. Owens credits taking the state authorities out of the practice of collecting union dues for a 50% drop in dues collection by the Colorado Federation of Public Employees and the subsequent layoff of the union's entire 17-person field staff. Field staff is commonly used for political projects. Owens told United Press International: "This is going to force that union to be closer to its membership."
Legal Team Assembled to Fight Proposed Campaign Finance Regulations
If President Bush does not veto the campaign finance regulations recently passed by Congress, Southeastern Legal Foundation president Phil Kent told Human Events he is putting together a legal "dream team" to oppose the constitutionality of the regulations on First Amendment grounds. Among those discussed for the team is former Clinton independent counsel Kenneth Starr.