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Conservative Politicians and Public Safety Unions

As reported by investigative journalist John Hrabe, conservative gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly has accepted money from public safety unions in his legislative campaigns. His support from unions wasn’t a momentary lapse in judgement. As cited in Hrabe’s reports, his past candidacies have also benefited from independent expenditure campaigns funded by public sector unions. To not report Donnelly’s actions here would be negligent. But Donnelly’s not alone.

An assembly candidate from Orange County, conservative Keith Curry, recently lost the endorsement of the conservative Orange County Lincoln Club for accepting a donation from the Orange County Firefighters Union. Apart from the Orange County Lincoln Club’s dramatic decision to hold Curry accountable, none of this is news. While public sector unions virtually control the Democratic party in California through campaign contributions and lobbying, public safety unions spread their money around to candidates from both parties.

The consequences of allowing labor unions to take over California’s cities and counties through political spending that dwarfs every other special interest should be obvious by now. Public sector unions are the brokers and enablers of other special interests – corporate, financial and environmentalist. In all cases, these special interests have an agenda to squelch competition and secure government favors. Public sector union power makes or breaks any candidate or policy agenda from any other source. The other special interests get the message, and play ball. The results are higher prices for consumers, higher costs on small businesses, and higher taxes for everyone. Meanwhile, large corporations and financial interests profit, and public sector union members get increased pay and benefits that effectively exempt them from these harmful effects.

Such abstractions are largely irrelevant to politicians who need money to run their campaigns. They know that rank and file conservatives love public safety employees because they do tough work, fighting crime and catastrophe, facing danger every day, serving and protecting the public. Of this, one can say without irony, what’s not to like? But public safety unions take advantage of the sentiments of loyalty and respect their members have earned from the public, and have used it to elevate their pay to unaffordable heights. Libertarians, of course, can also be manipulated by public safety unions. After all, who cares if nearly 100% of a city’s budget is for police and fire services, if those are the only “legitimate” services a local government ought to provide? But should a double standard apply? Should most public sector unions be opposed, while public safety unions get a pass?

The challenge for conservatives is two-fold. First, whatever money they don’t accept from public safety unions they will have to replace through contributions from somewhere else. But there is nothing available to them that comes anywhere close to the torrent of money that perennially flows from the pockets of taxpayers into the payroll departments of government agencies and then automatically transfers into the coffers of public sector unions. In California over $1.0 billion per year is collected by public sector unions – one third used explicitly for politics, two-thirds utilized for an inherently political agenda, negotiating how we manage our public institutions and compensate our public workers. Public sector unions play in every political contest because they can, and because every election, no matter how insignificant, directly affects their interests. Nobody else even comes close.

The other challenge for conservatives is equally daunting. How do you make the entirely legitimate but woefully awkward argument that you support public safety, even though you oppose public safety unions? How do you express your appreciation for the risks and sacrifices made by public safety employees, at the same time as you argue that their pay and benefits have grown to levels we can’t afford, and in many cases are inequitably high?

One way to make this argument – along with simply stating the above points – is to remind members of public safety that even without collective bargaining and unions, they will still have significant political influence. Totally voluntary associations of public safety employees can still collect dues and donations, voluntarily, from members, and they can still engage in political spending. But without collective bargaining, at least the politicians they help elect would not be bound by the strait-jackets of labor agreements that are wreaking financial havoc on nearly every city and county in California.

There remains the larger, more abstract but very compelling argument that Donnelly, Curry, Brulte, and every other conservative in California who engages with unions ought to articulate. Unions, especially public sector unions, negotiate over-market compensation at tremendous cost to everyone else. And the intrinsic agenda of public sector unions, bigger government, is compatible with the agenda of crony capitalists, financial opportunists, and environmentalist extremists with their army of plaintiff attorneys, but this agenda hurts everyone else.

There is another, higher path, which is to dissolve public sector unions altogether, so that government workers and private workers share the same fate. This will facilitate grassroots political activism undistorted by government union agenda. Activism that will force corporations to compete, force governments to live within their means, inspire debate over government entitlements that are financially sustainable and earned according to the same formulas by all workers, increase opportunities for small businesses, and lower the cost of living for everyone.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center

RELATED POSTS

When Will Conservative Candidates Stop Accepting Public Sector Union Money?, May 12, 2014

The Unholy Trinity of Public Sector Unions, Environmentalists, and Wall Street, May 6, 2013

Public Pension Solvency Requires Asset Bubbles, April 29, 2014

Construction Unions Should Fight for Infrastructure that Helps the Economy, April 1, 2014

Forming a Bipartisan Consensus for Public Sector Union Reform, January 28, 2014

A Policy Agenda for Union Reformers Stuck Inside Unions, November 5, 2013

Why Did the California State GOP Accept Donations from Public Sector Unions?, October 8, 2013

Avoiding the Oversimplifications of ‘Right Wing’ vs. ‘Left Wing’, December 16, 2013

How Unions and Bankers Work Together to Protect Unsustainable Pensions, November 26, 2013

How Public Sector Unions Skew America’s Public Safety and National Security Agenda, June 18, 2013

Should Police and Firefighters be Exempted from Union Reforms?, March 12, 2013

The Preexisting Political Advantage of Government Workers, November 27, 2012

Would ANY Public Sector Union Reform Appeal to California’s Democrats?, February 12, 2013

The Ideology of Public Sector Unions vs. Private Sector Unions, February 20, 2012

The Differences Between Public and Private Sector Unions, May 13, 2011

Democrat Committees, Unions Funneled Corporate Money to California Assembly Candidate

Editor’s Note: This investigative report authored by John Hrabe offers yet another compelling example of how public sector unions and corporate special interests collude to elect Democrats. Why? Because Democrats support more government and more taxes – especially when those taxes are used to fund the bloated payroll of a unionized government and the extravagant projects of crony capitalists. And in this case, the support offered by public sector unions and corporate special interests took the form of cash transfers that may have violated campaign finance laws. The irony is not lost on the author, nor should it be lost on readers.Wasn’t it Republicans who were trying to turn California over to corporations? Wasn’t it Republicans who were trying to hide their donors behind superpacs? This scrupulously researched report chronicles the last-minute financial machinations that funded the narrow defeat of Republican Chris Norby by Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva. No party should be immune from these investigations, nor is it partisan to challenge the Democratic party truism that corporations favor Republicans.

Special interest groups circumvented state campaign finance laws by using Democrat Party committees to funnel more than a quarter-million dollars to a crucial Orange County assembly candidate, an investigation has found.

In a span of 18 days, late in the campaign, six Democratic county central committees contributed $292,200 to the Assembly campaign of Sharon Quirk-Silva, who defeated Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton, by fewer than 5,400 votes. The hundreds of thousands of dollars in last-minute campaign funds secured Quirk-Silva’s election and helped Democrats gain their first super-majority in both houses of the state legislature since 1883.

Irony Alert: Quirk-Silva accused Norby of supporting special interests.

The county party committees made the contributions to Quirk-Silva’s campaign within days and, in some cases, within hours of accepting contributions from the state’s most powerful special interest groups, including labor unions, corporations and a Los Angeles development group.

The Quirk-Silva campaign denies any wrongdoing or coordination of campaign finances between special interest groups and county party committees.

“The Sharon Quirk-Silva for Assembly campaign never requested more than the legal limit from any donor,” said Jason Mills, Quirk-Silva’s campaign manager. “The campaign had no discussions with any of the outside groups listed seeking to arrange contributions larger than what is required under California state law.”

State Campaign Finance Law Allows Parties to Serve as Cash Conduits

Individuals and businesses are limited each election to a maximum contribution of $3,900 per candidate. However, political party committees can accept substantially more than state candidates — $32,500 per election. Political parties can also transfer unlimited funds to state candidates. This system of campaign finance regulations allows parties to function as the middleman for interest groups seeking to support state campaigns.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission, which is responsible for enforcing the California Political Reform Act, has described this strategy as “money laundering” in a similar case involving two Republican legislators. In October, the FPPC alleged that Tom and Bill Berryhill circumvented state campaign finance rules by transferring funds through two Republican central committees during the 2008 campaign.

An FPPC spokeswoman said that the agency “cannot comment on a specific situation,” but confirmed no complaints have been received in the Quirk-Silva case.

Quirk-Silva’s victory has been called the “key to achieving the coveted supermajority” for state Democrats. When asked by the Voice of OC about the significance of Quirk-Silva’s upset, Assembly Democratic spokesman Steven Maviglio said, “This was the prize that made it happen.”

Given the state’s strict campaign finance limits, how could Democrats funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to a candidate in the final weeks of the campaign?

Same-Day, Same-Dollar Contributions to Central Committees

Campaign finance records show a pattern of large campaign contributions from special interest groups to party committees that were quickly transferred to Quirk-Silva.

On November 2, healthcare giant Blue Shield of California sent $25,000 to the Del Norte County Democratic Central Committee. The very same day, the party transferred the same amount, $25,000, to Quirk-Silva’s campaign.

On October 17, the Del Norte committee also accepted a $25,000 check from PACE of CA School Employees Association, a labor union that represents 215,000 bus drivers, janitors and other school employees. On October 19, the Del Norte Democratic Party sent $10,000 to Quirk-Silva’s campaign.

Could there have been coordination between the school employees’ union and Blue Shield to send $50,000 to the same Democratic central committee?

Del Norte Contribution: Blue Shield, School Employees Shared Lobbyist

In September, the Los Angeles Times reported that both the school employees association and Blue Shield share the same influential Sacramento lobbyist, Dave Low. At the time, health advocates questioned whether Low’s dual role posed a conflict of interest.

“The question is, does Blue Shield have access to insider information through these unions?” Gerald Kominski, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research told the Times. “It doesn’t look right.”

According to state campaign finance records, the Del Norte County Democratic Central Committee had accepted $204,524 in campaign contributions from January 1 to October 20. Based on this figure, the combined Blue Shield and school employees’ contributions represented a quarter of the committee’s total annual receipts. Yet, 70 percent of the funds were immediately transferred to a candidate more than 750 miles away.

Neither Low nor the Del Norte County Democratic Central Committee responded to email requests for comment.

Same-Day, Same-Dollar Donation from Disney to Democrats

In addition to the Del Norte County Democratic Central Committee, another county party processed same-day, same-dollar contributions. On October 19, the same day that Del Norte Democrats sent funds to Quirk-Silva, Disney Worldwide Services, Inc. contributed $10,000 to the Democratic Party of Orange County. The very same day, the party contributed the exact same amount, $10,000, to Quirk Silva’s campaign. The state’s campaign finance laws would have precluded Disney from making a five-figure contribution directly to Quirk-Silva.

Representatives for Disney and the OC Democratic Party deny that there was any coordination of campaign contributions for Quirk-Silva’s benefit.

“There was in no way any coordination regarding this contribution and to my knowledge Disney did not support or endorse Sharon Quirk-Silva’s race for Assembly,” said Nick Anas, executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County. “Disney Worldwide Services was a platinum sponsor for the 2012 Annual Truman Awards Dinner on Monday, September 17th, in which they agreed to a Platinum sponsorship of $10,000, which is detailed in our program book.”

A Disney spokeswoman corroborated the OC Democratic Party’s version of events— that the funds were for an event more than a month earlier. Anas added that the county party also contributed $10,000 on October 19 to the Yes on Measure BB campaign in Irvine, which passed and allowed city funds to go toward schools. And Anas said that on the same day the party also kicked in $10,000 to the campaign opposing Measure V in Costa Mesa. Measure V would have made the city a Charter City, allowing more leeway in limiting union power. Measure V lost. However, he confirmed, “No funds were earmarked.”

A.E.G. Had Financial Incentive to Defeat Libertarian Norby

More campaign finance irregularities can be found with a Los Angeles development group’s contributions to two Democrat central committees.

Anschutz Entertainment Group Inc., the Los Angeles-based sports and entertainment mogul that owns the Staples Center, contributed $25,000 to the Los Angeles County Democratic Party on October 18. Four days later, on October 22, the Los Angeles party sent a check for the same amount, $25,000, to Quirk-Silva’s campaign.

A.E.G. wasn’t limited to one county party committee contribution. On October 19, the day after it sent $25,000 to the L.A. County Democrat Party, the party sent the same amount, $25,000, to the Kern County Democratic Central Committee. On the same day, the Kern County party committee sent $15,000 to Quirk-Silva in Orange County.

“There was no coordination,” claimed Candi Easter, the chair of the Kern County Democratic Central Committee. “We did not even know of the AEG contribution until after we had approved the donation to the Quirk-Silva Committee.”

Why would a Los Angeles-based company contribute thousands of dollars to party committees in the Central Valley and Los Angeles, which would in turn benefit an Orange County candidate? The answer may be found with redevelopment reform.

Norby, Quirk-Silva’s libertarian-minded opponent, has been a vocal critic of redevelopment agencies, which commonly benefit wealthy development companies at the expense of taxpayers and small businesses. In 2011, Norby was one of only a handful of state legislators to oppose SB 292, which was hurried through in the final days of the legislative year. The legislation created a special process for reviewing environmental challenges to a privately financed Los Angeles stadium, a project that would financially benefit the Anschutz Entertainment Group.

Los Angeles County Democratic Party: A Reliable Campaign Conduit

The Los Angeles County Democrat Party proved to be a reliable conduit for special interest contributions. Within days of accepting $137,250 in campaign contributions from seven special interest groups, the Los Angeles County Democratic Party distributed $127,200, or 93 percent of these received contributions, to Quirk-Silva’s campaign.

On October 10, the L.A. County Probation Officers Union, AFSCME Local 685, contributed $10,000 to the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. One week later, the Los Angeles County central committee contributed $11,700 to Quirk-Silva’s campaign in Orange County.

On October 17, Aecom Technology Corporation, a Los Angeles-based technical support services firm that specializes in environmental services, contributed $10,000 to the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. The day prior, the party contributed the same amount, $10,000, to Quirk-Silva’s campaign.

On October 24, the California Association of Highway Patrolmen contributed $25,000 to the Los Angeles County Democrat Party. Five days later, on October 29, the party delivered $10,500 in campaign funds to Quirk-Silva.

On October 26, the CDF Firefighters, which represents the state’s 4,000 members of the state’s firefighter union, contributed $25,000 to the Los Angeles County Democrat Party. Three days later, on October 29, the party contributed $30,000 to Quirk-Silva’s campaign.

On October 31, the L.A. County Firefighters Local 1014 gave $25,000 to the LA County party, a contribution that was followed two days later by a $17,250 contribution from the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters. On November 2, the Los Angeles Democratic Party sent a $40,000 check to Quirk-Silva’s campaign.

The incoming contribution from the carpenters’ union was filed on the same disclosure report as the outgoing funds to Quirk-Silva’s campaign. And 95 percent of the combined contributions from the firefighters and carpenters unions made their way to Quirk-Silva’s campaign via the Los Angeles Democratic Party committee.

State Candidates Funded Party Committees

In addition to financial transfers by special interest groups, state candidates provided cash infusions to both Quirk-Silva and Norby via party committees. In one instance, campaign funds were sent from one Orange County legislative candidate to Marin County and then back to a different Orange County candidate, all within seven days.

According to state campaign finance records, the Norby campaign accepted a $50,000 contribution from the California Republican Party on the same day that the party accepted a $50,000 contribution from state Senator Bill Emmerson’s campaign committee.

This mailer accused Norby of supporting big business.That contribution mirrors a legislative transfer to the Quirk-Silva campaign.

On October 24, Orange County Assembly candidate Tom Daly contributed $32,500 to the Democratic Central Committee of Marin County. On October 26, the party funneled $15,000 back to Orange County for Quirk-Silva’s campaign.

The Quirk-Silva campaign believes that the transaction by the California Republican Party proves there were no financial irregularities in the race.

“It can’t be a ‘finance irregularity’ as you allege, if our opponent was receiving similar contributions,” Mills said.

Both the Daly and Emmerson contributions, unlike the other party central committee transfers, were not preceded by five-figure contributions from special interest groups. State law precludes legislative candidates from accepting such contributions.

However, another Marin County Democratic Party contribution raises questions.

The same day that O.C.’s Daly sent funds to Marin County Democrats, the United Domestic Workers of America, which is based more than 500 miles away in San Diego, sent a $25,000 contribution to the same committee. Once again, the Marin County party held the funds for less than a week before sending it back to Southern California. On October 31, the Marin County party sent $30,000 to Quirk-Silva.

Ironically, all of this special interest money helped fund negative attacks on Norby. The charge: Norby has “special interest donors.”

John Hrabe is a freelance writer and communications strategist with a decade of experience managing outreach for local, state and federal political campaigns, public relations clients, and new media startups. From 2007-09, he served as a spokesman for California’s sales tax agency and helped recover more than $38 million in tax deposits that the agency wrongly withheld from thousands of small businesses. John recently served as a graduate fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, where he researched issues ranging from civic discourse to human trafficking. He also has a Master’s degree in Global Media and Communication from the London School of Economics. This article originally appeared on his website JohnHrabe.com and is republished here with permission from the author.