Jonathan Blake: If Target's politics matter, what about labor's?

FFM Vice President Jonathan Blake wrote a commentary for the Star Tribune addressing the controversy over Target's political contributions. View it here or read below.

Jonathan Blake: If Target's politics matter, what about labor's?

Unions representing public employees have given loads of money this year. Almost all of it backs a single ideology.


Last update: July 30, 2010 - 6:45 PM

The recent uproar over Target Corp.'s $150,000 contribution to MN Forward, a business-friendly political action committee that is running ads in favor of a probusiness gubernatorial candidate, has officially become a media phenomenon, covered in virtually all of the state's newspapers, blogs and TV newscasts. It's even made national news.

Meanwhile, Minnesota's largest public employee unions have already spent five times that sum, more than $750,000, on the upcoming election, virtually all of it in support of a single political party and its allies. That story has been relegated to deep inside the local section, if it is covered at all.

So why are corporate contributions the subject of controversy while union contributions go largely unreported?

There's certainly no legal distinction. Corporations and public employee unions both are free to support any candidate or political cause they wish, provided they do so in compliance with campaign finance laws. And the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission earlier this year opened the door for corporations and unions to make independent expenditures supporting or opposing political candidates.

But the criticism of Target isn't about the law. It's about political ideology. Critics have blasted Target for giving money in favor of a candidate that some of the company's shareholders, customers and employees do not support. Some say that corporations have a responsibility to support the same causes and candidates as those they serve. If that's the case, shouldn't the same be true of labor unions?

If so, the unions have failed that test miserably.

Since the beginning of 2009, the state's largest public employee unions -- Education Minnesota, AFSCME Minnesota Council 5 and MAPE -- have contributed heavily to legislative and gubernatorial candidates, party committees, and other political organizations. Virtually all of that money has been spent in support of a single political party and that party's candidates and ideology.

In the past 18 months, Education Minnesota, the teachers union that represents 70,000 educators across the state, has shelled out $383,981 in direct political spending. More than 99 percent went to support Democratic candidates, the DFL Party and liberal campaign committees.

During that same time period, the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE), which represents more than 12,000 state employees, has made $144,450 in itemized contributions to candidates and political parties. Well more than 99 percent was given to Democratic candidates and DFL Party units. Just one contribution, totaling $250, was made to a Republican candidate.

Finally, AFSCME Council 5, the Minnesota branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has given approximately $230,000 to candidates, party committees and other political committees so far this election cycle. About $20,000 was contributed to candidates for nonpartisan local offices. All of the remaining money went to DFL party committees, DFL candidates, or liberal political groups such as Progressive Majority and Working America.

Unless well more than 99 percent of our state's unionized public employees are in lockstep with the DFL Party and its liberal allies, the unions have misrepresented their members. And given that union support for Democratic presidential candidates hovers somewhere between 50 percent and 60 percent, it would be ludicrous to suggest that Minnesota's rank-and-file union members are as loyal as their leadership is to a single political party and ideology.

There's also an important distinction to be made between corporations and public employee unions. Corporate revenue comes from voluntary transactions with customers. Public employees are forced to support a union. Even those who have chosen not to join the union are forced to pay so-called "fair share" fees, even though they aren't members.

There is nothing wrong with scrutinizing a high-profile organization's political activities and contributions. There is, however, something very wrong with a double standard.

Jonathan Blake is vice president of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a nonprofit think tank that advocates free-market public policy.


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