|/* Written 6:56 AM Feb 16, 1998 by email@example.com in igc:labr.all */
/* ---------- "Labor To Fight CA Ballot Initiative" ---------- */
Labor to Fight Moves to Curb Political Power
By Frank Swoboda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 14, 1998;
The AFL-CIO said yesterday it plans to spend millions of dollars and
mount unprecedented grass-roots activities to defeat a California ballot
initiative and similar efforts in at least 14 other states that unions
could take them out of the political game.
AFL-CIO political director Steve Rosenthal said labor will spend about
$8 million in California and launch "the most massive grass-roots effort
we've ever done in the state" to try to defeat a June 2 ballot initiative
would greatly limit the ability of unions to use membership dues for
political purposes. The governorship of the nation's largest state is up
for grabs this year, and union officials said the initiative -- now
70 percent support in some polls -- would effectively bar unions from its
usual role in that election.
"This is the most direct and concerted legal attack against labor as an
institution that's ever happened," AFL-CIO attorney Larry Gold said.
The California initiative is just one of 19 legislative proposals or
initiatives labor faces in 15 states so far this year, all designed to
union political power. But Grover Norquist, a confidant of House
Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and coordinator of the nationwide
campaign against labor, said yesterday that he hoped to have either
ballot initiatives or legislative proposals in at least 40 states by the
the year, thus tying up labor's election-year funds in Lilliputian knots.
Supporters of the California initiative will probably spend $10 million in
California and almost $20 million in the other states, Norquist asserted.
"If they [unions] don't outspend us 10 to 1, they'll lose. I think they'll
outspend us 4 to 1 and we'll win," said Norquist, director of Americans
for Tax Reform and a key player in past debates over proposed
balanced budget and term-limits amendments to the Constitution.
Federal legislation that would put into place similar restrictions against
labor nationally is pending in both the House and Senate, but is
considered unlikely to pass, much less survive a presidential veto.
Norquist said he and his supporters chose the state route to try to curb
the unions' political activity "because Bill Clinton has the veto pen, but
he can't veto the state initiatives."
The focus of the California initiative and most of the other pending state
actions is the millions of dollars in dues unions receive from their
members. In California, the ballot initiative would bar unions and
employers from using union dues or other fees connected with union
membership for political contributions or expenditures unless they had
annual written authorization from the union member. Under current
law, a union member who doesn't want to have his dues used for
political purposes must resign from the union and, in many states,
continue to pay a fee equal to the dues minus the political portion.
Union leaders contend that the initiatives are part of a concerted
Republican attack to once and for all curb labor's political powers, a
payback for labor's efforts in the 1996 congressional elections. The
AFL-CIO spent $35 million on a media blitz directed against GOP
candidates that year and all told, labor spent $119 million, according to
the Center for Responsive Politics.
Underscoring the shift in labor's political fortunes since 1996 is the
that legislative proposals to curb labor's political impact have been
introduced in at least five states that have traditionally been labor
strongholds: Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and
The unions are also worried about possible initiatives in states such as
Ohio, Kansas, New Jersey, Utah, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming and
Iowa where Republicans now control both houses of the legislature and
If passed, the California initiative will go into effect July 1 and labor
would have to go to each union member in the state to get written
approval to spend their dues money on politics. Republican Gov. Pete
Wilson, who is barred from seeking reelection, is actively supporting the
ballot initiative. Some polls indicate that the initiative loses support
it is explained to potential voters.
Rosenthal said that a loss in California in the short run "will have a
pretty devastating effect." Labor could still field volunteers, but would
be able to tap membership money -- its key source of funds for political
Gold indicated that if labor lost at the ballot box, it would challenge
constitutionality of the law on grounds that it abridged labor's right of
speech. "Obviously, this strikes at the heart of First Amendment activity.
We think it may be unconstitutional," Gold said.
If the initiatives survived court challenges, the AFL-CIO and member
unions could tap the nearly $60 million a year in fees they receive from
an affinity credit card.
Mark Bucher, the Orange County businessman who helped write the
California initiative, scoffed yesterday at the idea that labor would
only $8 million in that state to fight the ballot proposal. "Anyone who
believes they're only spending $8 million is not in touch with reality.
Eight million dollars is just the seed money for their campaign," Bucher
Bucher would say only that "our last report" showed his group had
raised $1.3 million. He said the group -- the California Campaign
Initiative -- has the support of 12,000 contributors but would not say if
the backers included any major business groups. Business groups
generally would support such restrictions on labor, but are unwilling to
pick an open fight because unions still have clout to block
business-backed initiatives in some states. One union official said the
business groups have warned labor not to fight the Bucher effort with
anti-business initiatives that would force business to openly back the
In other states, where business groups have taken a position against
labor, the unions plan to take counter-initiatives, such as ballot
proposals to limit corporate political activity without shareholder
approval or legislative proposals to cut tax breaks for political