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MOONEY: Government Unions Prioritize Politics Over Representation

According to an analysis of campaign finance records, government unions place a significant premium on political activism than on representing their members.

This is particularly true in the case of the National Education Association, AFSCME and their local affiliates.

Public employees who fund this political activism with their dues might want to ask some hard questions about how their public policy views square with the agenda of their union leaders. If, for example, they support a wide range of public and private educational options for parents and students, chances are their union leaders are using their union dues to block reform measures they favor.

National School Choice Week provides teachers a platform to assess if their unions have effectively advanced their professional interests and bettered workplace conditions. Parents with K-12 students and who belong to government unions also have a vested interest in learning how often their education goals align with their union’s political spending.

Some key figures from Department of Labor data highlight the political activities funded by membership dues. The latest numbers show NEA spent $50.1 million on politics versus $39.3 million on representational activities.

Meanwhile, AFSCME spent $60 million on politics compared to $34.3 million on representation. The American Federation of Teachers, another key player in union political activism, paid $93 million on representational activities versus about $47 million on political activism.

What about the local affiliates in Pennsylvania? On the surface, the ratios appear more balanced. However, a sizable percentage of union dues fund political activism that parents and teachers do not necessarily support. The Pennsylvania State Education Association spent $14.8 million on representation versus $5 million on political activities. In comparison, AFSCME Local 13 spent $6.3 million on representation versus $408,406 on political activism.

The only outlier on the list is AFT Pennsylvania, which spent $94,821 on representational activities and claims to have spent no money on political activism. Even assuming that’s true locally, AFT union members nationwide are footing the bill for political campaigns that crowd out their workplace concerns.

The Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank, found government unions directed less than 20 percent of all dues expenditures toward representational activities.

So, what about the rest?

After examining the spending of the four largest government unions (namely, NEA, AFT, AFSCME and SEIU), the foundation found government unions collectively spent more than $406 million of their membership dues on political activities. According to the foundation’s report, membership dues funded about 60 percent of union political spending in the 2021-22 election cycle.

But some public employees have had enough and are combating unions’ misplaced priorities in court.

In one high-profile case in Connecticut, John Grande, a public school physical education instructor, won an unfair labor practice charge against the Hartford Federation of Teachers. The union had declined to arbitrate Grande’s grievance because he was not a union member.

With assistance from the Fairness Center, a public interest law firm in Pennsylvania, Grande ultimately prevailed. The Connecticut labor board concluded that the union illegally discriminated against Grande because he was not a union member. Their decision bolsters the right to fair representation for all Connecticut public employees. Yet, it does not solve the problem of the teachers unions prioritizing politics over their primary responsibility of representation.

Grande balked when the Hartford Public Schools held a mandatory professional development training described as “Identity & Privilege” on Zoom, which he views as an effort by administrators to coerce critical race theory onto the school district.

But shouldn’t the local teachers union also be working to secure Grande’s free speech rights? Isn’t that part of their job?

That’s why the Fairness Center is pursuing a federal lawsuit on behalf of Grande that alleges the school district violated his First Amendment rights. The firm has represented other teachers and public employees in Pennsylvania who object to their union officials’ political agenda.

The growing disparity between the interests and policy preferences of rank-and-file public employees and their union leaders is at least partly responsible for the recent success of the school choice movement. Despite all the money and organization government unions have poured into obstructing reforms that create new public and private school options, school choice advocates continue to gain ground.

For instance, 13 states offer Education Savings Accounts, according to EdChoice, a nonprofit that favors a wide range of education reforms. ESAs enable parents to receive a portion of their tax dollars back through restricted-use savings accounts that cover private school tuition, tutoring services, instructional materials and other education services.

Perhaps the great takeaway from School Choice Week is that unions are beginning to experience diminishing returns on their investments against educational freedom.

Point: In a Sport Driven by Tradition, a Revolution Looms

For an alternate viewpoint, see “Counterpoint: A Gilded Age for College Football — and the Rest of Us.”

College football is a game of tradition — from marching bands and fight songs to rivalry games and raucous student sections. But the game is undergoing its biggest revolution since the introduction of the forward pass.

Billion-dollar television deals, continuing conference consolidation and the uncharted waters of player compensation threaten the stability of a 150-year-old sport. To preserve the game’s long-term stability, college football’s decision-makers must place guardrails on how money flows through the sport.

Over the last two decades, the money flowing into the highest levels of college football has exploded. The annual revenue in “Power Five” college athletics has soared from $50 million per school in 2004 to nearly $140 million in 2022. While college tuition is also increasing at alarming rates, this influx of cash for athletics is not coming from the students. It’s driven by eye-popping television and media rights deals.

In 2020, the SEC signed a 10-year, $3 billion deal granting ESPN exclusive broadcast rights. Not to be outdone, the Big Ten recently signed a seven-year, $7 billion deal of its own. With this new money, schools are investing hundreds of millions of dollars into state-of-the-art athletic facilities along with tens of millions of dollars on coaching contracts.

It is no surprise that these big-money conferences have several schools banging down the doors to get in. Starting in 2024, football powerhouses Oklahoma and Texas will leave the Big 12 to join the SEC, while 10 schools from the Pac-12 are sacrificing their geographic and historic rivalries for more lucrative conferences on the other side of the country.

The student-athletes are starting to get their piece of the pie, too. Following a landmark Supreme Court decision, the NCAA adopted a policy allowing students to make money from their “name, image and likeness” (NIL). Gone are the days when boosters paid players under the table with duffel bags filled with cash. Now, players can earn millions of dollars by appearing in advertisements for major brands. At the same time, “donor collectives” can entice players to pick one school over another.

While players deserve compensation for their value, the new NIL landscape has created chaos in the sport. Rather than developing their minds and bodies in reserve roles as underclassmen, players are now looking to transfer between schools in search of the best NIL deal and immediate playing time. It’s hard to blame the students — agreeing to be a backup with the promise of a future opportunity can mean leaving money on the table or losing the chance to play as new players transfer into the program. Moreover, the top three finalists for this year’s Heisman Trophy show how transferring to a new school can elevate a career. But without any guardrails on player compensation, lower-earning schools may become nothing more than developmental teams as wealthy programs offer millions of dollars to encourage high-level players to leave.

We are in the midst of an inflection point for college football. The media contracts are growing, and more schools are on the hunt for bigger payouts. But there are also larger cultural factors at work. Safety concerns have driven a decline in football participation among youth, more students from overseas are enrolling in American universities, and sky-high tuition prices have led to stagnant domestic enrollment.

If these trends continue, not only are the rivalries and traditions that make college football special in jeopardy, but the entire sport might be at risk. The survival of college football will require bold leadership from the NCAA, conference executives and university administrators.

Fortunately, there are some signs of progress. The new 12-team playoff format could stem conference consolidation by providing auto-bids for the top six conference winners. If officials have the fortitude to rebuff requests from the major conferences to eliminate auto-bids, schools will be incentivized to remain in separate conferences.

On the NIL front, NCAA president Charlie Baker recently introduced a proposal to require compensation for all student-athletes at the richest schools. While this proposal is just a starting point, Baker’s proactive approach is a step in the right direction. Salaries for players appear to be inevitable, whether by public pressure or judicial mandate. The NCAA is wise to get out in front of the issue.

America’s most tradition-filled sport is entering a new period. The game is on the line, and college football leadership cannot afford to fumble.

PA Sits on $4B in ‘Unclaimed Property.’ Garrity Wants to Give it Back

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has $4 billion in other people’s money sitting in its coffers. State Treasurer Stacy Garrity wants to do something unusual with it.

She wants the government to give it back.

The state has created a “Money Match” program that would “automate the process of returning unclaimed property to rightful owners.”

“One of my top priorities has always been to return as much unclaimed property as possible to rightful owners,” Garrity told DVJournal.

“This is not our money; it belongs to hard-working Pennsylvanians,” she said. “Money Match will get more money to Pennsylvanians faster than ever before without any action by the person themselves.”

“It actually removes red tape – which is unheard of in government.”

The Treasury said “unclaimed property” includes things like dormant bank accounts, claims payments, accounts payable, uncashed checks, insurance policies, contents of forgotten safe deposit boxes, and more.

The state requires businesses to report funds of those types if they’ve laid dormant in accounts for three years. There has been a surge in unclaimed property flowing into Pennsylvania’s coffers recently, from $343 million in 2020 to $417 million last year.

The government is holding over $4 billion in unclaimed funds.

Normally, Pennsylvania residents must go through a lengthy process to recover any money that has ended up in the unclaimed account. The Money Match program will allow them to reclaim those funds after the state confirms their identity.

The measure will only apply to funds in amounts below $5,000. Any unclaimed money over that amount must follow the earlier, lengthier reclamation procedure.

The Treasury told DVJ that over 95 percent of unclaimed funds are less than $5,000.

The bill received backing from multiple state senators, including the Delaware Valley’s John Kane and Frank Farry, and has strong bipartisan support. It passed the GOP-controlled Senate unanimously. It currently sits in the House Finance Committee.

The state says 10 percent of Pennsylvanians have unclaimed property in the government’s coffers. Some residents use property recovery professionals to help return their funds. The Treasury stipulates that such individuals must “be certified as a finder by the Pennsylvania Treasury.”

The Treasury has held events to auction off unclaimed property in its holdings in the past.

Its most recent sale in April saw the auctioning of over 4,000 items, including “a 14K two-tone gold stick pin brooch with 2-carat diamond,” “multiple Engelhard 100 Troy ounce 999+ fine silver bars,” a gold George Melleze pocket watch, and “various comic books and magazines.”

Proceeds from the auction “will be carefully tracked,” Garrity said at the time, “and will always be available for the rightful owner to claim any time, even years or decades from now.”

On its website, the Treasury stresses it wishes to return the funds to their rightful owners as quickly as possible.

“Let’s be clear,” the department says, “this is YOUR money we’re talking about, and we don’t want to keep it.”

BACKER: Which Costs More and Scares You Less — Halloween or the 2022 Election?

Many Americans will spend October stoking fear and building tension, with no shortage of blood-curdling screams. Then there’s Halloween.

Over two years, more than $9 billion will be spent on Election 2022. Money will be thrown at Americans to get them to choose between political candidates and parties, just like it will be spent on Marvel costumes, candy corn and the rest. Between the midterm elections and Halloween celebrations, U.S. spending will total upward of $20 billion, dominating public discourse.

While Halloween spending is driven by market demand and impervious to criticism (as it should be), election-related spending drives some people crazy. Spending money to promote your ideas is far scarier than Halloween to those whose ideas your particular spending may oppose.

Campaign finance “reform” is now a priority of the Democratic Party, with End Citizens United spokesman Adam Bozzi claiming “it’s both good policy and good politics.” (Side note: End Citizens United, as a nonprofit organization, does not disclose its donors.)

The left’s insistence on shutting down free speech and free association is strangely obsessive when it comes to politics. It seems like only speech and association that has to do with the electoral system and the democratic process are worth condemning, despite the fact that they form the very foundations of our democracy.

What is democracy but your freedom to organize and communicate on behalf of your ideas? And yes, meaningful communication requires spending money — something Democrats have no problem with so long as their ideas are communicated.

But, as long as you’re not spending money on politics, it’s quite all right. And, yes, a Marvel Halloween is quite all right. Consumerism is a good thing, just like money in politics is a good thing. In fact, American politics needs more money in it, not less, because political spending is associated with the free flow of ideas. It reflects public discourse in the idea marketplace, with the most popular ones (like Marvel) dominating the discourse while the least popular ones (sorry Green Lantern) ultimately fade away. Similarly, candy choices with the most appeal attract the most consumer dollars, while the organic alternatives get thrown away.

That’s the whole point. The market is the ultimate freedom: Taking the product of your own hard work (or that of your parents) and spending it on whatever ideas — or candy — you may choose.  In politics, good ideas attract money, just like sugary candy attracts the most kids.

Winning candidates and political parties draw attention from donors large and small. Of course, losing ones (i.e., Michael Bloomberg) can flood the political system with billions of dollars, but money is no guarantee of victory. Bloomberg knows that better than most, and plenty of candy ideas are just as flawed. But some people liked Bloomberg, and the “top 10 worst candies ever” list is admittedly rife with my childhood favorites!

So why shouldn’t we be free to choose, in any marketplace, what’s right for us?

No amount of money will get Americans to embrace ideas that aren’t actually popular, just like you can’t pay me enough to eat Hot Tamales for Halloween.

The amount of money in politics is a barometer of civic engagement writ large, and civic engagement is inherently beneficial to democracy. A democratic system can’t function without it. The more money spent, the more people are engaged, and the more ideas compete to curry favor in the marketplace. Like in the U.S. economy and on candy shelves, competition leads to greater consumer choice and personal freedom.

Here’s a tip leading to Election Day: Don’t listen to those crying wolf about political spending. Keep dressing up as Spiderman, keep eating your Skittles, and keep contributing to American democracy.

Free speech and free association are every bit as sweet as candy corn.

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