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Restrictions sought on political use of union dues

June 25, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ ``No one anywhere should be compelled to contribute to a political campaign,″ Sen. Don Nickles declared Wednesday in arguing for his bill to bar political use of union dues without members’ consent.

The ``Paycheck Protection Act″ will likely be a part of any campaign finance reform legislation Congress passes, the Oklahoma senator and deputy Republican leader told Rules Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va. ``I think there’s a pretty strong consensus, at least among the Republicans, hopefully among the Democrats as well, that campaign contributions should be voluntary.″

The measure extends not only to union members but also to corporate employees, who, he said, ``shouldn’t have anyone dipping into their back pocket, taking the money out without their consent.″

The bill’s supporters included Transport Workers Union member David Stewart, an American Airlines crew chief in Tulsa, Okla. He estimated that up to 80 percent of his fellow union members would rather keep the 20 percent of dues that he said are spent for matters unrelated to collective bargaining.

``If labor is convinced that the membership supports their non-germane spending, they should also be convinced that the consent to continue ... should be very easy to obtain from the members,″ Stewart told the hearing.

Unions may not use dues to support political candidates, but they can run advertising concerning issues that are part of the nation’s political debate.

The AFL-CIO’s spending of $35 million during last year’s campaign spurred controversy over union money in elections. Most of it went for TV spots targeting Republican freshman in Congress. Union officials insisted the ads were designed to hold lawmakers accountable for their votes on the minimum wage, education and Medicare.

Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., blasted Nickles’ bill from its title, which he called ``Orwellian,″ to its scope and import.

``I don’t think it deals with what most Americans are thinking about when they say that they want to get big money out of politics,″ said Wellstone, who wants the system overhauled. ``It doesn’t change the system that locks ordinary citizens out while making sure big givers and heavy hitters have a seat at the table.″

It also improperly singles out a group ``with which the bill’s sponsor tends to disagree politically,″ he said.

Stewart _ a former Democrat who is now a Republican _ strongly advocates union membership and said he resented that he had to quit the union to ensure his dues weren’t used for political purposes.

Victoria Bor, a lawyer speaking for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said that while nonunion employees can sometimes be required to support a union financially, they can ``insist that their money be used only to support the unions activities that _ in the Supreme Court’s words _ are `germane to collective bargaining.‴

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