Illegally Used Union Members’ Dues Money to Support Gov.-Elect Wolf’s Election
December 23, 2014, HARRISBURG, Pa.—After publicly apologizing last month for the content of an election mailer supporting Governor-Elect Wolf sent days before the election, the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) has now admitted funding the mailer using union members’ dues—a clear violation of state law. The PSEA has also admitted to using its dues-funded magazine to illegally support candidates for office.
The PSEA responded to the charge filed with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in November by complainant Mary Trometter and the Fairness Center by confirming that they used union members’ dues money to fund the election mailer that Trometter found offensive and demeaning. The PSEA also offered various legal arguments to justify its conduct and relied extensively on the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial opinion in Citizens United v. FEC.
In the response, Amy Kurtz, who heads the NEA’s Campaigns and Elections Department, admitted, “In my role as manager, I oversaw the team that produced and disseminated a letter dated October 28, 2014, signed by NEA president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia and [PSEA] President Michael J. Crossey, and sent to Jeffrey Trometter . . . The NEA Advocacy Fund paid for the production and distribution of the letter.”
Likewise, David Broderic, Director of Communications for the PSEA, said, “In my capacity as PSEA’s Director of Communications, I oversaw the production and dissemination of the November 2014 issue of PSEA Voice . . . The 11/2014 Voice contains a number of articles urging members to vote in the then-upcoming elections and, specifically, to vote for Tom Wolf for governor.”
“State law includes a clear, blanket prohibition against spending government union members’ dues money on behalf of political candidates,” commented David Osborne, general counsel for the Fairness Center. “Today, the PSEA is finally admitting to the type of illegal conduct in which it has engaged for decades.”
Still, even in their admission, the PSEA attempts to justify its behavior by hypocritically citing Citizens United v. FEC, a case often criticized by union leaders from NEA and PSEA.
“PSEA leaders cannot ignore valid law because they ‘think’ it may be unconstitutional—that is for courts, not union leaders, to decide,” Osborne points out. “They have been engaging in this illegal conduct long before Citizens United.”
After Trometter and the Fairness Center brought attention to the blatantly partisan mailer, PSEA spokesman Wythe Keever said in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that a similar mailer was sent to approximately 20,000 households, and that they had apologized to “about 30” other members who complained.
Trometter’s story has captured the attention of lawmakers in both the state House and Senate to the extent that they are circulating memos in support of legislation dubbed “Mary’s Law.” This new legislation, formerly known as paycheck protection, would end the state collection of government union money that’s spent on political activity like the mailer sent to Trometter’s husband.
“This is a win for transparency in Pennsylvania politics. Mary’s complaint about the mailer sent to her husband is just the tip of the iceberg in the PSEA’s misuse of members’ dues. The PSEA has regularly violated the Public Employe Relations Act behind the scenes for decades with impunity—only now that Mary Trometter is standing up to their bullying and illegal tactics are they finally admitting it.”
Section 1701 of Pennsylvania’s Public Employe Relations Act states: “No employe organization shall make any contribution out of the funds of the employe organization either directly or indirectly to any political party or organization or in support of any political candidate for public office.”
- PSEA’s response to Trometter’s charge
- Charge filed with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board
- Letter from PSEA/NEA to Mary Trometter’s husband
- November 2014 issue of The Voice for Education
David Osborne is available for comment today. Contact John Bouder at 570–490–1042 or email@example.com to schedule an interview.
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The Fairness Center is a nonprofit, public interest law firm offering free legal services to those facing unjust treatment from public employee union leaders. For more information visit www.FairnessCenter.org.