Union Dough and Bribery

Why soft bribery remains the rule rather than the exception.

Last week saw a “man bites dog” story.  Only this time, it wasn’t man bites dog -- it was Democrats bite unions.

After watching their state brought to the brink of fiscal disaster by public unions run amok, House Democrats in Massachusetts turned on their union masters, Darth Vader style, voting to limit their bargaining power.  (Apparently, there are benefits to a one-party state – the public has no choice but to hold responsible those in power for their incompetence.)  “By spending less on the health care costs of municipal employees, our cities and towns will be able to retain jobs and allot more funding to necessary services like education and public safety,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo rightly announced.

Robert J. Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, predictably ripped into DeLeo and his fellow Democrats.  Miffed that his Chester A. Arthur clone had bucked him and his Stalwart cronies, Haynes announced, “It’s pretty stunning.  These are the same Democrats that all these labor unions elected.  The same Democrats who we contributed to their campaigns.  The same Democrats who tell us over and over again that they’re with us, that they believe in collective bargaining, that they believe in unions …”  Then he concluded with typical union thuggery: “We are going to fight this thing to the bitter end.  Massachusetts is not the place that takes collective bargaining away from public employees.”

There is no point in singling out the Massachusetts Democrats for their hypocrisy on the union issue – hypocrisy is a way of life in Massachusetts.  There is a broader point to be made here, however, about the nature of politics across the country: as government grows, there is no way to prevent the domination of bribery in the political system.

In this instance, for example, it is obvious that Haynes expects bang for his buck, a little backscratching for his fundraising.  He is incredulous that the same Democrats “who we contributed to their campaigns” [sic] would now turn on the unions.  And why shouldn’t he expect better treatment?  After all, unions across the country have spent hundreds of millions of dollars “converting” politicians to their way of thought.  Take, for example, the state of Michigan, where unions spend millions on Republican politicians in order to buy their support.  Again, this is man bites dog stuff – unions supporting Republicans? -- except that such out-and-out greasing has been the union model for a century, both internally and externally.

Internally, unions run on graft.  The ties between organized crime and organized labor are no secret – from Jimmy Hoffa in the 1950s and 1960s to the Laborers International Union of North America in the 1980s, unions and the mob have been tight.  As former Gambino Family Boss Paul Castellano said in the early 1980s, “Our job is to run the unions.”

That pattern continues today.  In 1990, prosecutors indicted the New York District Council of Carpenters and Joiners of America for bribery, among other charges.  That case ended with a consent decree and a “corruption monitor.”  It wasn’t particularly effective: in August 2009, Manhattan prosecutors brought charges against the New York City carpenters’ union leadership for racketeering, bribery, fraud and perjury.  Not surprisingly, the leadership of the union had endorsed Mayor Michael Bloomberg just weeks before, and Bloomberg had championed the endorsement in a press release.

This is where internal corruption meets external corruption.  These unions have millions in union dues to play with and exploit, and they use it to full advantage.  In fact, that was one of the original purposes of the unions for Democrats – Democrats allowed unions to form in violation of basic anti-trust principles so that the unions could be used as political organizations to support them.

Is there any question that in paying off politicians with the cash of their constituents, unions border on violation of 18 USC Sec. 201(b), penalizing anyone who “directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official or person who has been selected to be a public official … with intent – to influence any official act …”?  These aren’t union members finding their friendliest candidates and raising moolah for them – it’s union heads parlaying directly with politicians and trading support for favors.

In condemning unions in this manner, we border on John McCain-esque critiques of money in politics.  In suggesting that unions give cash as soft bribes, we seem to make the case that money has no place in politics, and that campaign finance reform is a necessary and just objective.

It is not.  There are two answers to the problem of legalized political bribery.  The first answer is narrow: destroy unions’ anti-trust exemptions.  If unions are forced to allow competition in the labor marketplace, unions will no longer be able to use their union dues without regard to union members.  Since unions are the main purveyors of the direct political kickback, such bribery will largely wither on the vine.

But it will not die unless big government dies first.  As long as government remains an enormous grab bag of cash, waiting for the first paid-off politician willing to “make it rain” for his patron, soft bribery will remain the rule rather than the exception.  Limited government prevents any corporation or union from treating government as a feeding trough – there’s no slop in the trough in the first place.

Unfortunately, no matter how often Democrats realize that they must sometimes disappoint their union sponsors in tough economic times, they will always find a way to renew their vows when the ledger turns from red to black again.  Unless the American people and their elected representatives hold true to Constitutional principles for the long haul, America will always play the see-saw game of bribery and corruption, bankruptcy and austerity, then back again.

Ben Shapiro is an attorney and writer and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, and author of the upcoming book “Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How The Left Took Over Your TV” from Broadside Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Tags: Union, way, state, wasn, labor