Maryland Unions Asks Politicians for Donations

Hollywood is currently reviving Star Wars, a classic 1970s series. Perhaps they should revive another 1970s series, The Godfather, with a fourth film centered on Maryland unions’ shakedown of local candidates for office: In 2006 and 2010, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) asked candidates for the state legislature and county council for donations of $6,000 each, the maximum amount for donations in Maryland.

Now the United Food and Commercial Workers/Municipal and County Government Employees Organization Local 1994 (MCGEO) is following suit, asking on an endorsement questionnaire, “If endorsed by our Union, will you commit to writing a $4,000-$5,000 check to our PAC, like you would to MCEA, to assist our union’s campaign on your behalf?

This is exceptionally rare in the U.S., since most outside groups donate to candidates they support, instead of the other way around. Along with being unheard of, this phenomenon is harmful to the democratic process. As The Washington Post notes,

Under this ethically perverse setup, state and local elected officials essentially outsource their campaigns — mailings, fliers, even polling — to a single lobbying group. The result is that, once in office, they are beholden to the union and incapable of balancing their support for teachers against potentially competing interests.

Another election is looming in Maryland and it remains to be seen whether the MCEA will repeat their dubious practice. Their spokeswoman, Barbara Hueter, assures us that they are “doing things differently this year.”

As for the MCGEO, their president, Gino Renne, responded to inquiries about the controversial question by saying that its purpose was to weed out candidates who would “pay to play” and to draw attention to the MCEA’s backwards practice: “We wouldn’t have accepted any money. We were fishing to see what electeds or candidates would feel compelled to pay to play… I’ve been involved in Maryland politics since 1978 and they [MCEA] are the only ones I’ve encountered who do this.

Some candidates see through this questionable practice. Dick Jurgena, a Republican candidate, says, “I looked at it more as extortion than I did as anything else…I thought that I was pretty sure the union would not endorse me anyway, then when asking me for $4,000 to $5,000, it turned me off.”

But, to Gino Renne’s point, Jurgena did admit that the question seemed to be more “bait than substance” because it asked him for $4,000-$5,000 ($4,000 being the maximum amount that an individual can give).

However, Jurgena is still skeptical that the only purpose of the MCGEO’s question was to highlight the MCEA’s practice. To that assertion, Jurgena laughs and says, “OK. If you believe that, then I have a bridge to sell you.”

Whether or not MCGEO is following in the crooked footsteps of the MCEA cannot be known for certain, but I share Jurgena’s skepticism. The MCEA, on the other hand, should end this undemocratic practice and I hope that Barbara Hueter is being honest when she says of the union’s past endorsement requirements, “We are not doing it this year…We are doing different things this year.”