Freedom of political choice vs. slavery in post-'Citizens United' America...
Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning
In a case where the employment of several members of the United Public Workers (UPW) was terminated after they failed to fully participate in unpaid, off-duty campaign activities on behalf of a union-supported Congressional candidate, three Republican members of the Federal Elections Commission produced an astounding Aug. 21 decision. They ruled that it is perfectly lawful for unions and corporations to compel their members and employees to engage in such activities, sans compensation, as part of "independent campaign efforts."
In their "Statement of Reasons" [PDF], the three GOP Commissioners explained the basis for their remarkable ruling.
They acknowledged that the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, 2 USC §441b(a), as well as FEC "regulations prohibit a labor organization [or a corporation] from facilitating the making of a contribution by means of 'coercion, such as the threat of a detrimental job action...to make a contribution or engage in fundraising activities on behalf of a candidate." But, they wrote: "These provisions do not apply to UPW's independent campaign efforts."
UPW's independent use of its paid workforce to campaign for a federal candidate post-Citizen's United was not contemplated by Congress and, consequently, is not prohibited by either the Act or Commission regulations.
The FEC's three Republican appointees thus presented not only a novel but a remarkable extension of Citizens United given that 2 USC §441b(c) makes it "unlawful" even for a corporation's or union's "segregated fund" to provide "anything of value" that is secured by a threat of financial reprisal. The statute mandates that employees must be told about their "right to refuse to so contribute without any reprisal."
In their separate "Statement of Reasons" [PDF], the three FEC Democrats, along with Office of General Counsel (OGC), found a clear-cut violation of Section 441b. "Nothing in Citizens United," the FEC Democrats opined, "suggests...that the Court intended to expand the rights of corporations and unions at the expense of their employees' longstanding rights to be free from coercion and to express or decline to express their political views."
According to the Congressional Research Service [PDF], at least four votes are required for the FEC "to exercise core functions." Thus, the 3-3 deadlock prevented the FEC from disciplining the union for anything beyond the fine for non-reporting of the "independent expenditure."
Setting aside the fact that the OGC's and FEC Democrats' interpretation appears to find direct support in the language of Section 441b of the U.S. Code, there's a fundamental constitutional issue that arises from the disturbing GOP interpretation of Citizens United which neither side addressed --- slavery!...
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