Public-sector unions bankroll Wisconsin’s runaway senators

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Opinion Zone,Tina Korbe

Wisconsin public-employee unions and government workers have contributed nearly one out of every five dollars to the 14 runaway senators in the past two election cycles. In other words, the Democrats owe their jobs to public-sector unions -- the same groups outraged by Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill.

The 14 senators who fled to neighboring Illinois continue to defy the governor’s recently issued ultimatum to return within 24 hours or force the state to forgo both jobs and money. They’ve been missing for almost two weeks, preventing the state Senate from achieving quorum.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the “Fab 14,” as Wisconsin protesters call the MIA minority, have raised a total of $1.9 million for their campaigns since 2007, according to records compiled by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Of that total, at least $344,000, or about 18 percent, came from public-sector unions or directly from government employees.



That’s a conservative estimate because candidates don’t have to identify the occupations of those who give $100 or less.

Clearly, as a group, the missing lawmakers have enjoyed the advantages of union support -- but some, like Spencer Coggs of Milwaukee, are more than a little beholden. Two-thirds of Cogg’s campaign coffers come from public-sector donations, according to the Journal Sentinel.

Wisconsin public unions have also spent their own cash to buy TV and radio ads in support of Democrats. The Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state teachers union, for example, independently spent more than $1.6 million to support Democrats in four Senate races last fall.

Since 2008, two national unions -- the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union -- have given more than $1.3 million to the Greater Wisconsin Committee, an independent grassroots organization that promotes “a progressive public policy agenda,” according to its website.

Perhaps none of this would be significant if unions -- like businesses -- divided their donations equally between Democrats and Republicans. But in Wisconsin -- as in the rest of the country -- Democrats overwhelmingly benefit from union money.

“Labor unions hardly provide anything to Republicans,” said Michael McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, in the Journal Sentinel. “They are not bet-hedgers.”

But both Republican and Democratic taxpayers indirectly foot the bill because they pay the salaries of public employees -- and automatic payroll deductions for dues ensure public employees join a union even if they’d rather not.

Walker’s bill would change that: The legislation would end automatic payroll deductions for dues and would allow public employees to opt out of union membership.

Tina Korbe is a staff writer in the Center for Media and Public Policy, an investigative journalism outlet at The Heritage Foundation.

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