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PAC Abuses in Government


June 1, 1998


PAC Abuses in Government

By Daniel B. Newby

An issue of rising concern to many Utah citizens is the government's role in collecting the political action committee (PAC) monies for government (public) employee labor unions. These PAC monies are used to promote political agendas and influence government. Currently, public employee unions and other organizations use the government payroll system to simply and automatically collect PAC monies, deducted from employees' paychecks. Taxpayers, through this mechanism, feel that they have become unwilling assistants for PAC collections.

The most prevalent argument for continuing the current government practice of collecting PAC monies is that public employees should have the same right to contribute to a PAC through automatic payroll deduction as any other employee or group in the private sector. There is, however, a significant difference between private payroll systems and the government payroll system: the taxpayer.

Consider the recent decision of the Southern Baptist Convention. The body determined to boycott the Disney Corporation because of the considerable resources Disney funnels to PAC agendas and causes, such as the homosexual lobby, that conflict with mainstream Baptist values. The Baptist delegation resolved to exercise their freedom as consumers by refusing to be patrons of Disney's products and services, thereby separating themselves from Disney's disagreeable PAC contributions and political agenda.

No one would deny the Baptists their right to boycott Disney. American consumers need not support, or in any way participate in, private PAC collection. However, the American taxpayer is forced to support, and participate in, PAC collection for labor unions and other organizations that use the government payroll system.

The government payroll system is funded by the taxpayer and is an extension of all taxpayers. Simply, Utah taxpayers are the collection mechanism for public employee PACs. Using that system to collect PAC monies for political causes, often opposed to taxpayer interests, is an abuse of the system. Force is applied because there is no way for disgruntled taxpayers to refuse to pay the taxes that fund the government payroll system.

There are many Utah taxpayers who do not support the political agendas of prominent public employee PACs and their associated labor unions. For example, the Utah Education Association (UEA) and its parent organization, the National Education Association (NEA), support an extremely liberal social agenda, including: "family planning, including the right to reproductive freedom" (NEA Resolution I-13, 1997); establishment of "on-site child care services" for teen mothers (NEA Resolution C-7, 1997); and sex education programs that include birth control, family planning, and diversity of sexual orientation (NEA Resolution B-36, 1997).

UEA and NEA PACs use the government payroll system to collect their money and then funnel the majority of it to support political candidates who tend to favor their philosophies. UPAC, the UEA Political Action Committee, and its local affiliates spent approximately $72,000 on Democratic candidates and approximately $34,000 on Republican candidates in 1996. This bias becomes even more apparent when considering that the Utah state legislature is composed of seventy-five Republicans and only twenty-nine Democrats.

Nationally, of the $2.36 million spent by the NEA-PAC on the 1996 elections, 98.8 percent went to Democratic candidates and only 0.08 percent went to Republican candidates. Utahns—taxpayers—who disagree with these philosophies are forced to collect these PAC monies for the UEA and NEA agenda.

The tactics used by unions to maintain high contribution levels to their PACs amplify the misuse of the government payroll system. For instance, the UEA Membership Enrollment Form, Revision 494, given to public educators states the following:

"UPAC contribution in the amount of $14 is included in the UEA dues amount. UPAC funds are used to help elect friends of education at the state and local levels. Persons not wishing to participate in UPAC should contact their Association Representatives for alternative instructions before November 15."

This wording introduces an element of intimidation to the public employee who does not wish to fund the political purposes of the UEA. If the PAC deduction were truly voluntary, it would require a separate action to allow it, rather than an uncertain approval process involving "alternative instructions" from union representatives. Government, in essence, currently condones these and other pressure tactics applied to public employees by labor unions. This type of government legitimization of coercive tactics has no place in a free land, nor should the government and the taxpayer be placed in this compromising situation.

One proposed solution to this inequitable arrangement is to require PACs to pay the taxpayers back for collecting their monies. However, taxpayers—who own the collection mechanism—would still be forced to permit the use of this resource for PACs. Monetary compensation does not justify this use of force against the taxpayer. The correct solution is to remove taxpayers from the entire PAC collection process. This would allow PACs to "sink or swim" based upon their own merits, not on the coercive influence of government intervention. State legislators should free the taxpayers from their unwilling role in the collection of these funds. Public employees who wish to contribute to a PAC of their choice may write out a personal check. Members' private donations will demonstrate how legitimate, acceptable, and attractive these PAC agendas really are.

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Daniel B. Newby wrote this article while employed as Director of Operations & Development for the Sutherland Institute, a Utah-based public policy research institute.

Permission to reprint this article in whole or in part is granted provided credit is given to the author and to the Sutherland Institute.

Disclaimer: Newby left the Sutherland Institute on January 28, 2003, and has conducted all his efforts since that time as a private citizen.  The Sutherland Institute has officially and publicly disavowed and distanced itself from Newby's political views, tone, and activities.  As a courtesy to the Sutherland Institute, we have posted their e-mail on the matter.


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