Unions getting taxpayer dollars exempt from Schumer-Van Hollen “contractor” ban?

Rick Hasen, law professor at Loyola Law School and proprietor of Election Law Blog, had an interesting comment in The Hill newspaper yesterday relating to the pending (for quite some time) DISCLOSE bill, as Senator Schumer and Congressman Van Hollen’s effort to undermine Citizens United is now cleverly known as.

Hasen was addressing the legislation’s ban on government contractors engaging in independent expenditures. The ban only covers for-profit corporations it seems (or so we’ve been told—the legislation has been crafted behind those closed doors that I thought so-called campaign finance reformers were so appalled by), exempting non-profits and unions.

Attempting to explain this, Hasen said the following:

Hasen said some of the biggest campaign spending restrictions outlined in the summary would only affect corporations. For example, large federal contractors, recipients of government bailout funds who have not repaid the money and foreign-owned companies would be banned from election spending.

“There are no foreign-owned unions and unions are not government contractors,” Hasen said. “The biggest limitations in this bill apply only to corporations because there are no parallels in the labor world.”

Well, I don’t know too much about “foreign owned unions,” although I’d note that some foreign involvement would seem to be suggested by the names of the Service Employees International Union,  the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and others. The IBEW even has a Canadian on what appears to serve the function of a board of directors (International Executive Council members).

But there certainly is a parallel between for-profit government contractors and unions, at least in terms of receiving government funds. The site USASpending.gov is a wealth of information on where taxpayer dollars go. Going to the Spending: Grants page and simply typing “union” into the search box  revealed the following (among a great many other grants):

INTERNATIONAL CHEMICAL WORKERS UNION $3,580,993

INTERNATIONAL UNION OF OPERATING ENGINEERS $48,000

INTERNATIONAL UNION UNITED AUTO WORKERS $756,304

Typing in the names of some specific unions produced the following:

INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS $3,258,575

STEELWORKERS CHARITABLE AND EDUCATIONAL ORGANIZATION $3,405,172 (this is an affiliate of United Steelworkers)

UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA CAREER CENTERS $718,229

This is based on just a few minutes perusal, I’m reasonably sure that if I took the time to get familiar with the database and its search functions I would be able to turn up more than a few additional grants to organized labor.

There are also quite a few nonprofits that get government funding. A few more searches reveal:

PLANNED PARENTHOOD OF WISCONSIN INC $3,904,789

National Rifle Association of New Mexico $40,000

THE NATURE CONSERVANCY $54,099,589

DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE $104,480

Based on just these cursory searches, it seems obvious that taxpayer dollars flow into unions and nonprofits, and grants of taxpayer dollars made directly to unions and nonprofits are a pretty clear parallel to contracts given to for-profit firms. Given this, what could possibly justify for-profit firms receiving government dollars being banned from exercising their First Amendment rights while allowing unions and advocacy groups in a similar situation to retain their rights?

My guess? Partisan politics, and the desire by some in Congress to silence or at least limit the voices of those voices that would dare to challenge their governance.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.