Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gary Palmer: Special session undermines AEA power

  Of the seven bills that passed during the special session, there was one bill in particular that hit Paul Hubbert and the AEA especially hard. It was the ban on the use of state resources to collect political contributions from state employees for A-VOTE, the AEA's political action committee (PAC).

  The AEA is by far the biggest source of PAC money in Alabama. From 2006 through 2010, A-VOTE collected well over $16 million in political contributions. And not all of the money came from education employees. One major contributor to A-VOTE during this time frame was gambling kingpin Milton McGregor. McGregor, who is under a federal corruption indictment, gave A-VOTE $603,000.

  By far, the single biggest source of A-VOTE money, over $12.5 million, was from payroll deductions from AEA members' paychecks. By being allowed to use state resources to deduct political contributions of such magnitude from AEA members' paychecks, Hubbert has turned the AEA into a massive and powerful political machine at our expense. The purpose of the legislation passed during the special session was to stop this abuse of state resources and force Hubbert to raise his PAC money by soliciting his union members to write checks or use bank drafts or credit cards.

  Hubbert and others opposed to the bill called stopping the use of state resources for the AEA's political purposes an assault on the rights of their union's members. He and other opponents claimed that by not allowing them to continue to use state resources for the collection of their PAC money their rights were being violated and their voices silenced.

  The problem with that argument is that no one is making any attempt to silence the voice of any union member or infringe upon their right to support any political party or candidate they choose. Every AEA member has complete and total freedom to fully engage in the political process, they just can't use state resources, paid for by Alabama taxpayers, to support their political efforts. If AEA members want to support a political party or candidate, they can do what other people do... they can write a check and mail it in or have the money drafted from their checking accounts or charged to their credit cards.

  This legislation not only stops the abuse of state resources, it brings more transparency to our elections. For years, Hubbert and the AEA have skirted our laws by not reporting all of the individual sources of contributions to A-VOTE PAC. Alabama's Fair Campaign Practices Act requires disclosure of the source of all political contributions above $100, yet when A-VOTE files its PAC disclosure with the Alabama Secretary of State, all they report is a non-itemized employee payroll contribution. However, according to the law, every AEA member whose annual contribution to A-VOTE exceeded $100 should have been documented and disclosed individually on the A-VOTE report.

  Not only have Hubbert and the AEA kept Alabama voters in the dark about all the sources of their political funds, he has fought attempts to force the AEA to be more open and transparent to its members about the source of all the AEA's funding and how it is spent.

  In 2002 the Department of Labor expanded the application of Section 208 of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 to other public sector unions including all state education unions which are members of the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). By requiring public employee unions such as the AEA to publish their financial disclosure forms, the Department of Labor was attempting to provide the members with information about how their dues are spent on all union activities including lobbying and political campaign contributions.

  These regulations were imposed in an effort to create a level of transparency and accountability that does not exist for AEA and other public employee unions, yet Hubbert joined 39 other education unions in filing a lawsuit in federal court to make sure the regulations were never implemented.

  For years, hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers have been pressured by AEA operatives to allow money to be deducted from their paychecks even though they may not have supported the AEA's political agenda or the AEA-backed candidates. Despite all the protests by Hubbert and his AEA operatives, the passage of this legislation in the special session ends this abuse of taxpayer funded state resources and gives teachers and other AEA members more control over how their political contributions are spent, if they want to spend anything at all.

  The bottom line is that the passage of the bill to stop the use of state resources from being used by the AEA to raise money for their PAC is good for teachers and taxpayers.

  About the author: Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.

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