Hypothetically, what would you do if you were given a quarter of a million dollars? Would you feel you owed something to the person who gave it to you?
For some, this is no hypothetical question. California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis is currently living this reality.
First reported by the Sacramento Bee, Kounalakis was recently handed upwards of $250,000 directly by labor unions to furnish her office, throw lavish parties and impress foreign diplomats who may visit her office sometime in the future.
Ms. Kounalakis didn’t believe her offices’ $1.5 million yearly budget or the extra $500,000 earmarked for it in the governor’s current budget request were sufficient to impress her colleagues.
The money was raised through an obscure practice called “behested payments” and laundered through a committee that was controlled by Ms. Kounalakis.
Unlike legitimate campaign contributions and gifts, however, these payments are not subject to the same strict disclosures or limits. In other words, special interest groups can give an unlimited sum of money to politicians and are subject to minimal accountability.
Originally quoted in the Sacramento Bee, Bob Stern, the former president of the Center for Governmental Studies, noted:
- “It would be better if Kounalakis had used another source of funding like campaign donations to pay for office furniture because those funds are subject to greater disclosure.”
- “Behested payments (were) more for other charities, not your own — you’re raising money for a school or a United Way or some organization that you don’t control.”
On her campaign trail, it appeared that investments by labor unions were already paying off. Ms. Kounalakis told a gathering of Riverside County Democrats:
- “I hope for a renewal of understanding in this current generation going into the workplace, particularly those who may not know the story of organized labor in California. That’s what I’m going to be talking about on college campuses and in workplaces across the state.”
Not coincidentally, Kounalakis, starting in 2018, has been endorsed by a Who’s Who of public workers’ unions, including the California State University Employees union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, the California Federation of Teachers and many others.
Instead of unions’ spending dues money on furniture and parties, they could choose to spend their member’s hard-earned money on issues that might actually impact them. Unfortunately for those members, their unions’ prioritize buying politicians above representational activities.
The good news is that workers now have a way to fight back by opting out of paying for these kinds of lavish political donations.