Hang on, dear reader, as we weave our way through the interstices of federal and state campaign finance and labor laws.
Unions at all levels must segregate dues money and PAC contributions for candidates. They are allowed to spend dues money on ballot initiatives, issue campaigns and independent expenditure campaigns, but they must collect voluntary contributions exclusively from members for PACs that donate to candidates. This explains why the National Education Association, which spends tens of millions of dollars on issue politics each year, only collects, on average, about $2.5 million annually for its candidate PAC – the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education. Raising PAC money among the delegates to the union’s convention is a neverending activity.
In some states, and California is among them, the union is allowed to collect candidate PAC contributions along with dues (primarily through paycheck deduction), but the contribution still has to be voluntary. In the case of the California Teachers Association, “voluntary” means you failed to fill in an opt-out bubble on your membership enrollment form when you joined the union, lo those many years ago. The form looked something like this one. The relevant box reads:
“A designated portion of CTA dues is normally allocated to the Association for Better Citizenship (CTA/ABC), a bipartisan political fund through which CTA provides financial support for educational issues and CTA-endorsed candidates for local and state offices. Please fill in if you choose not to allocate a portion of your dues to the CTA/ABC account and want all of your dues to remain in the General Fund.”
The last phrase is signficant because if you fill in the opt-out bubble, you don’t get the money back. You just gave an extra $18.30 to the union’s general fund.
Now we move on to CTA’s budget decisions for the 2010-11 school year. The union’s board of directors determined the usual PAC allocation would not get the job done. CTA very much wants Jerry Brown elected governor and Tom Torlakson as state superintendent of public instruction. So, for a single year, they increased the PAC allocation to $26.30, without raising total dues any additional amount. This maneuver will generate an additional $2 million or more for the PAC.
This sleight-of-hand would not be permitted at the federal level. But because state law allows the union to collect dues and PAC money in the same lump sum, CTA can claim that the general fund money is not the exact same money being added to the PAC coffers. Indeed, because the membership form specifies only “a designated portion,” there is nothing to stop CTA from raising the PAC allocation to $200 per member with no additional authorization from the individual.
Under these circumstances, there is some question whether the PAC box on the membership form constitutes informed consent. It is also worth mentioning that a CTA membership form is something you fill out once in your career. There are people currently teaching in California who filled out that form 20 or 30 years ago. Are they to be PAC contributors in perpetuity, at whatever level the union decides, without further authorization or even notification?