Oregon Government Unions Using Dues Dollars to Buy Secretary of State Election

Oregon Government Unions Using Dues Dollars to Buy Secretary of State Election

Oregon Government Unions Using Dues Dollars to Buy Secretary of State Election

It’s election season again, which means Oregon’s government union leaders are back to their usual game of propping up the political candidates of their choice with their members’ money — not so much because they have plenty of it to spare, but because political activism long ago replaced worker representation as the preferred way to spend the workers’ hard-earned dues dollars.

The primary target this year is the Oregon Secretary of State’s race, into which government unions, labor-affiliated groups and their political action committees (PACs) have poured over $868,000 to help elect Democratic nominee Shemia Fagan[1], accounting for more than 75 percent of her total campaign contributions since she entered the race earlier this year.

Why? It’s simple: One of the Secretary of State’s primary responsibilities is to oversee election and campaign finance laws in Oregon, and to enforce violations of those laws. Considering that various union-funded political groups have been both accused of and caught red-handed violating these laws in recent years, is it any wonder the unions pulling their strings want to hand-pick the person tasked with investigating them?

Moreover, isn’t the main goal of government unions to simply elect those who will make their lives easier at the expense of the taxpayers who pay the bills?

If that sounds a little cynical, consider this passage from the AFSCME’s Officers Handbook, for example, which boasts that “political action allows us to directly elect our bosses.” Or SEIU 503 — one of the biggest funders of Fagan’s campaign — recently boasted: “Sometimes the connection between who is elected to public office and the contracts we bargain for is difficult to see. In 2020, it’s crystal clear.”

Crystal clear, indeed.

By electing politicians beholden to their agenda, government union leaders hope to entrench their power within — you guessed it — government. Among other things, the reciprocal nature of this relationship allows them to push legislation aimed at limiting employee rights and emboldens them to continue violating those rights on a regular basis without fear of significant legislative or regulatory repercussions.

The truth is, union leaders may eventually spend all the way down to the last dime of their members’ dues on politics — but it’s unlikely to go on forever. In fact, some Oregon unions have already experienced a significant decline in their political spending following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME and the Freedom Foundation’s subsequent campaign to inform public employees of their rights.

Federal reports indicate SEIU 503’s political and lobbying expenditures fell by more than 60 percent last year, and the union continues to experience a mass exodus of dues-paying members as a direct result of learning how union leaders spend their money.

Further, the Freedom Foundation has filed a federal lawsuit to stop SEIU 503 from assessing a special “issues” fee on members and depositing it into to a dedicated political fund without their knowledge.

Ultimately, the extreme lengths to which Oregon’s government unions go to maintain their political clout is ultimately what drives many members away.

At the Freedom Foundation, all we can do is ensure they have the best information possible to make their decision.


[1] According to campaign finance transactions available online at: https://secure.sos.state.or.us/orestar/GotoSearchByName.do?OWASP_CSRFTOKEN=RSF0-L4ZF-VK5C-AZ7K-VWIQ-JCZ0-V7O1-D6RW

Research & Government Affairs Associate
Ben Straka serves as a Research and Government Affairs Associate for the Freedom Foundation, where his responsibilities include an array of policy research and reform efforts aimed at supporting the organization’s mission through legislative advocacy and public policy expertise. His work has been published in various local news outlets throughout the Pacific Northwest and the country, and he has appeared as a guest on radio programs such as The Lars Larson Show, among others. He has regularly testified before the Oregon State Legislature on matters of labor policy and government transparency, has advised local government leaders on labor relations, and has represented employees in administrative proceedings under the state’s collective bargaining laws. Ben first joined the Freedom Foundation in 2016, and holds additional professional experience in the fields of real estate development and construction. He is a native of Eugene, Ore. and a graduate of Corban University, where he studied political science and business. He lives in Oregon with his wife.