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Letting the cat out of the bag on the role of public employee unions

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Michael Barone,Wisconsin,Campaign Finance,Public Employee Unions,New Republic

Noam Scheiber makes a good case for the importance of the Wisconsin governor’s race at the New Republic. But the most interesting thing comes in what Scheiber, perhaps inadvertently, admits. Referring to the limitations on public employee union bargaining imposed by Governor Scott Walker and the Republican legislature, Scheiber writes, “He’s effectively defunded a key Democratic constituency.”

Let’s unpack that. Where do public employee unions get their money? Directly from dues paid by public employees, who in turn get that money from taxpayers. Where does that money go? Politically, almost entirely to the Democratic Party, as Scheiber admits. Public employee unions, whatever else they do, are (in almost all cases) a mechanism for mandatory taxpayer financing of one political party. Scheiber’s complaint is that Wisconsin Republicans have cut the amount of such public financing.

What’s the argument for that? I understand that those who want the Democratic Party to win every election may think that’s good public policy. But what’s the politically neutral argument for public financing of one political party and not the other?

I guess that those who think as Scheiber does might say, well, that’s just a side effect of the otherwise positive goal of providing union representation for public employees. An opposite view comes from Glenn Reynolds of instapundit.com, writing in USAToday: “All public-employee unions are suspect, given that they're basically organizations to take more money from taxpayers while minimizing accountability.” Franklin Roosevelt though there shouldn’t be public employee unions. I’m increasingly inclined to think he was right.

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