By Kyle Olson
TRENTON, N.J. – In an effort to clean up corrupt government, New Jersey legislators are seeking to ban union “pay-to-play,” a reference to labor unions giving campaign contributions to politicians who in turn award them no-bid contracts.
Labor unions (including teachers unions) are currently allowed to contribute money to candidates for public boards – often the same people who will sit across the bargaining table from their labor contributors to negotiate compensation and other contractual items.
That’s a broken system that invites corruption and cronyism and leaves taxpayer interests out in the cold.
According to the Huffington Post, New Jersey State Sen. Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield) will offer legislation to close what he considers an unfair loophole in the current law. The state’s current “pay-to-play” statute only limits the amount of money businesses seeking government contracts can donate to candidates.
Kean notes that local governments, including schools, spent close to 50 percent of their budgets on salaries negotiated with labor unions.
“’In my opinion, labor unions are no different than lawyers or consultants,” Kean said. “They negotiate contracts and fees with elected officials. This would make pay-to-play more complete.”
Any entity that has or may seek a no-bid contract – businesses or unions – should be barred from giving contributions to politicians who have direct authority over that contract. The conflict of interest in such arrangements is obvious.
But the state’s main teachers union is not happy about the proposed amendment.
“We are opposing this blatant attempt to silence the voices of our members and other public employees in New Jersey,” said Steve Baker, spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association. “I am sure the governor would love a world where corporations can spend unlimited sums to influence the public, while teachers, police officers and firefighters have their voices silenced. That is not America.”
Isn’t it funny that unions, which have long argued that money does not equal speech, are claiming their members’ voices will be silenced if they can’t pass the cash around?
Here’s a potential compromise. Continue to allow teachers unions to make political contributions to school board candidates, as long as they agree to compete with other unions and professional associations for the right to staff local school districts. School boards could then choose among competitive bids, instead of automatically awarding no-bid contracts to the existing local union.
Our guess is that the unions would not care for such a compromise. They like the corrupt system just the way it is.