Cites Citizens United to Defend Using Members’ Dues for Politics
January 14, 2015, HARRISBURG, Pa.—Today, the Fairness Center reveals that the Pennsylvania State Education Association has failed to report to state officials their use of dues to support political candidates for more than four decades—ever since a state law requiring them to do so was enacted in 1970. This comes after the PSEA admitted last month to violating state law by spending members’ dues money on politics in response to a charge filed by Williamsport educator Mary Trometter.
The Fairness Center also filed a rebuttal today to legal defenses offered by the PSEA with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) on Trometter’s behalf. While researching the PSEA’s political activities, the Fairness Center discovered via Right-to-Know request that the union has failed to file a single report with the PLRB for decades.
“Since 1970, Pennsylvania law has required public sector unions to report any dues money spent in support of political candidates to the PLRB,” commented David Osborne, general counsel for the Fairness Center. “But the PLRB has found no record of any reports having been filed in the intervening 45 years—despite the PSEA’s enormous levels of candidate support over the decades. This is just the latest example of PSEA’s flagrant disregard for state law and abuse of union members’ money, as Mary Trometter’s experience illustrates.”
In late December, the PSEA responded to Trometter’s charge that the teachers’ union violated section 1701 of Pennsylvania’s Public Employe Relations Act (PERA) by using dues money to fund a political endorsement letter sent to her husband and to fund their political magazine The Voice for Education. In their response, the PSEA and its parent organization, the National Education Association (NEA), admitted that dues money was used to fund both the political letter and magazine.
Section 1701 of the PERA clearly 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.”
Incredibly, the teachers’ unions cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC ruling from 2010 to defend their dues-funded political spending—even though both unions have repeatedly denounced the ruling as a threat to free speech. Indeed, the NEA warned that Citizens United was “drowning out the voices of ordinary Americans” and said that it “has twisted and distorted the political system” even as they took advantage of the ruling to transfer more than $500,000 of members’ dues to the SuperPAC PA Families First to run ads in Pennsylvania’s 2014 gubernatorial election.
“Nobody likes hypocrisy. Not only are PSEA and NEA using Citizens United to defend their actions after condemning it, but they are citing a court ruling from 2010 to defend actions they’ve engaged in for decades. These unions are arbitrarily assuming the power to pick and choose what laws they will and will not follow. It’s stunning that a law designed to enhance political transparency to protect the public and union members themselves has not been followed or enforced in more than 40 years.”
Section 1701 of the PERA goes on to include a reporting requirement that the PSEA has apparently not fulfilled in 45 years, “If an employe organization has made contributions in violation of this section it shall file with the board a report or affidavit evidencing such contributions within ninety days of the end of its fiscal year.” The PERA specifies fines for failing to report and possible imprisonment for willful violators.
“The PSEA has admitted to using members’ dues to support Tom Wolf for governor in violation of a valid state law,” Osborne noted. “What we are asking the PLRB to do today is simple: Enforce state law as it is written.”
- The Fairness Center’s Rebuttal to PSEA/NEA
- PSEA/NEA’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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.