Should Nevada Adopt a Mini-Beck Decision?

Look out: big labor is back!

But then they never really went away! This year as in years passed, labor (the AFL-CIO affiliates in Nevada, teacher’s unions affiliated with the National Education and state and local public employee unions) has flexed their political muscles with millions of dollars in political contributions. Money has flowed from the pockets of union members through union headquarters directly into the pockets of Democratic candidates at Federal, State and local levels. Did the union members have a say in who got these campaign donations? No!

AFL-CIO’s National Campaign

Earlier this year John Sweeney announced that the AFL-CIO would be targeting Republican freshman members of Congress for defeat in the November election. To back up his threat he committed $35 million dollars toward the task. But $35 million dollars is just the tip of the iceberg. Leo Troy, Professor of Economics at Rutgers University estimates that the actual cost of Big Labor’s mailings, phone banks and get-out-the-vote-drives cost fifteen times that figure. As Harry Beck points out in a recent Wall Street Journal article, "That’s more than every Republican spent for federal office in the 1994 election and four times the legal budgets of Dole and Clinton combined.

US Congressional Representative, John Ensign learned first hand that being one of the targeted freshmen meant war – a war of "in your face" charges and attacks which were designed to emote rather than provide facts to the electorate.

Nevada, The Right To Work State

Thanks to the State legislature, Nevada is a Right To Work State. Right To Work essentially means that no union can compel non-union employees to pay a shop fee for inadvertently benefiting from union negotiations. All well and good for non-union members but are union dues being used for political purposes without the permission or knowledge of the dues payer? Would each Union member consent to the contributions being made to union endorsed candidates? What about the social agenda of the NSEA, the AFL-CIO – Would each member consent to large contributions set being aside for these purposes? Would 40% of the NSEA membership which is registered Republican consent to 88% of the political contributions going to Democratic candidates? These are questions we’ve raised in the hopes that Campaign Finance Reform will hold union PACs more financially accountable to the electorate.

Lax Campaign Finance Laws Equals PAC Reporting Discrepancies

The Nevada State Education Association (NSEA) is a case in point. Nevada’s only teachers union, according to their own 1995-96 line item budget targeted $3 million in expenditures for that fiscal year. Approximately 16,000 teachers and support staff are on NSEA scrolls, each paying on average, annual dues of slightly less than $500 a year. Based on those figures, NSEA receives a minimum of $8 million per year. Now, if $2 million is assessed by the National Education Association, and $3 million is budgeted for 1995-6 expenditure, how is the remaining $3 million used? We know that according to Keith Lange, NSEA Executive Director that $12 of the dues is dedicated to "political action" not candidates (NSEA Perspectives Newsletter). So at least $204,000 goes toward political action without the direct consent of the payer. With $1 million going toward actual campaign donations in 1992 alone (figures obtained from NSEA’s own Campaign 1992 Summary) yet only $100,000 was reported to the Secretary of State – a discrepancy of $800,000 remains. And unfortunately, until Nevada changes its own campaign finance laws and tracks PAC money more closely, the answers to such questions will remain a mystery.

Would Nevada Benefit from A Mini-Beck Bill?

Union political activity caught the attention of Harry Beck in the 1960s. At that time Harry was an organizer for the Communications Workers of America, another member union of the AFL-CIO. He began to wonder what right the union had to use his dues to advocate agendas with which he disagreed. If the First Amendment grants the right of free speech, does it also grant the right to refrain from supporting speech someone might oppose? Beck, with the assistance of the Washington, DC based National Right To Work Foundation filed a lawsuit – Beck v. Communications Workers of America- challenging the union’s use of his dues for political purposes.

In 1988, the United States Supreme Court found for Mr. Beck. The unions could no longer legally spend dues for any other purpose than collective bargaining, contract administration, or grievance adjustment. Thus, these union member rights took on the name Beck’s Rights.

Bush, Clinton, NLRB, Department of Labor Ignored Beck Decision

How many union members have heard of Beck’s Rights? Very Few, indeed. And the reason although not shocking is cause for real concern regarding non-elected regulators being gate keepers to implementation of statutes.

The NLRB, National Labor Relations Board has never enforced the decision. Nor has any presidential administration since its pronouncement. In fact, President Clinton ordered federal contractors to tear down any remaining Beck notifications. And the stonewalling tactics have worked. 78 percent of union members have never heard of the Beck Decision.

NPRI’s Proposal: The Nevada SPCNA

So NPRI proposes a State Political Contribution Notification Act be enacted during the next legislative session. This would bring "Beck sanity" to the Nevada political scene, provide real disclosure and protections for union members who will now be able to direct their political contributions in conformity with their own philosophies rather than the union leadership, and will clean up at least one of the PAC vagaries which has lead to less than clean transactions on the political playing field.