Unions shouldn’t politicize

Wil Gradle

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Throughout the course of the last few election cycles, particularly in the state of Illinois, there has been an overwhelming criticism from the left regarding political donations from wealthy donors. Presumably, the logic behind those who are crying foul is that it is undemocratic for any one person to be able to influence the outcome of the election. Perhaps there’s a case to be made there. It may seem inherently unfair for one person or even for a group to use their financial influence to sway the election, but the question then becomes: Where do we draw the line?

Is it just as morally wrong for celebrities to endorse a candidate? After all, even if the celebrity isn’t financing a candidate directly, doesn’t their social capital have some sort quantifiable value? Isn’t this especially true when we factor in the reason why a person is a celebrity to begin with? For example, actors and actresses (who predominantly favor the left) benefit from what is called the “Halo Effect.” Because their primary exposure to the masses is when they are pretending to be someone likable (if they’re the protagonist) or at the very least, they’re talented at being someone else, shouldn’t we disregard their political opinions altogether? The issue is that we don’t. We often don’t criticize celebrities for spending their social capital on candidates. Why then criticize the wealthy for spending their monetary capital?

The issue of finding morality in the financing of elections gets even more interesting and convoluted when one begins to examine one of the supposedly democratic alternatives. Should collective bargaining units that represent government workers have the ability to donate to candidates, or even be involved in the election process at all? A case can certainly be made for private sector unions donating to candidates, given the limited conflict of interest, but the same case is much more difficult for public sector unions. It’s no secret that members of public sector unions in Illinois receive considerably higher benefits than their peers in other states, which in and of itself is not a bad thing.

Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Illinois Policy Institute makes the case that Illinois state workers receive the highest wages in the country when adjusted for the cost of living. While I would be hard pressed to draw a direct causal relationship between public sector union involvements and beneficial political activities, there is a strong correlation between union political involvement and post-election outcomes in terms of direct negotiations with governmental entities.

Is there not a clear conflict of interest when an organization has to negotiate with a party that it helped to elect? It seems particularly hypocritical for the same parties engaging in this practice to then criticize the morality of the issue mentioned earlier. In the case of both issues, there must be a serious look given to campaign finance reform. As previously stated, a case can certainly be made that a single person or group of people shouldn’t have the ability to finance entire campaigns, but far more pressing, in this writer’s opinion, is the need to reevaluate public sector unions’ ability to participate in the political process. The former is concerned about Election Day, the latter is concerned with the day after.

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