How Local Politicians are Betrayed by their Union ‘Friends’
How would you feel if someone you considered a friend suddenly turned against you? Not only that, but what if they did everything they could to destroy your career?
If you want an answer, just ask several current (and former) Republican state lawmakers who have bent over backwards to support government unions only to see those same unions’ leaders turn around and spend big in elections to defeat them.
Like many devious friends, the union leaders haven’t betrayed lawmakers to their faces. Instead, they’ve done it through a front group that hides its major funding sources and exploits a loophole in state law, allowing it to obscure political spending.
Union leaders haven’t betrayed lawmakers to their faces. Instead, they’ve done it through a front group that hides its major funding sources and exploits a loophole in state law, allowing it to obscure political spending.
Here’s the story.
In 2018, a new outfit called Pennsylvania Fund for Change registered as an Independent Expenditure Committee (IEC). IECs—often dubbed “Super PACs”—can spend unlimited amounts of money supporting or opposing candidates but cannot coordinate directly with candidates. Because they are “independent,” IECs can accept contributions from union dues.
Since its creation, Fund for Change has raised $9.8 million and spent nearly all of it in attempts to defeat state legislative Republicans and elect Democrats. And, ironically, they’re fond of targeting Republicans who’ve sided with government unions.
For example, in 2018, Fund for Change targeted Republican Reps. Becky Corbin, Kate Harper, Tom Quigley, Alex Charlton, Jamie Santora, and Duane Milne, as well as Sens. John Rafferty and Tom McGarrigle. All of these lawmakers sided with government unions on a key vote that would have eliminated unions’ political privilege of using taxpayer resources to collect their campaign contributions from members. All of these lawmakers lost their reelection bids.
This is particularly interesting given where Fund for Change gets its money: namely, from government unions and trial lawyers. While unions have given directly to Fund for Change, the bulk of the group’s money—$5,474,000 of total donations reported to date—has come from a group called PA Alliance Action, which is a nonprofit that does not have to name its contributors.
A bit of digging into LM-2 forms and state campaign finance reports filed by government unions, however, shows that over the years unions representing teachers and state government employees—including AFSCME, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, the NEA, and the PSEA (the state affiliate of the NEA)—have given PA Alliance and its associated entities several million dollars in union dues and PAC money.
These millions have then gone to Fund for Change to target Republicans, including those who vote with unions.
To compound the irony, some of these government unions endorse many of the lawmakers they then backhandedly spend money to defeat. So, Republican lawmakers often think they have a friend in the unions thanks to their public backing. Not so. We’ve seen time and again that government unions are happy to give lip service to pro-union Republicans, but they’ll spend big to replace them with Democrats.
Just last year, Republican Rep. Todd Stephens (Montgomery County), who’s been targeted by Fund for Change in his past two re-election bids, touted PSEA’s endorsement one day before blasting PSEA-funded Fund for Change for attacking him.
We’ve seen time and again that government unions are happy to give lip service to pro-union Republicans, but they’ll spend big to replace them with Democrats.
In Bucks County, Reps. Meghan Schroeder, Todd Polinchock, and Wendi Thomas also celebrated PSEA’s backing, as did Philadelphia’s Martina White. But while PSEA was handing out endorsements to these lawmakers with one hand, the other gave money to Fund for Change, which then spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to defeat them. In Rep. White’s case, Fund for Change spent more than $200,000.
All told, Fund for Change spent more than $7 million on state legislative races last year. Unfortunately, we don’t know the breakdown of how much was used to target specific candidates. State campaign finance law—at least, according to Gov. Wolf’s administration—allows IECs to avoid reporting which candidates they support or oppose except during the two weeks immediately before an election.
But one thing we do know, if you’re a Republican lawmaker, there’s no appeasing government unions. They are happy to rent Republicans and their votes until they can own a Democrat and their allegiance.
Someday, maybe these Republicans will learn that with friends like government unions, who needs enemies?
Gina Diorio is the Public Affairs Director at Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, an independent, non-partisan, 501(c)(6) membership organization dedicated to improving the economic environment and educational opportunities in Pennsylvania.