Juan Williams: The right's hypocrisy on money

Juan Williams: The right's hypocrisy on money
© Greg Nash

During the 2016 election cycle, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, the National Education Association (NEA), gave $29.7 million in political contributions.

Most of the money went to Democrats, including presidential candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonShocking summit with Putin caps off Trump’s turbulent Europe trip GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE.

There is no denying the outsized role of union dollars in Democratic politics.

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For example, I get mad at Democrats who can’t see the urgent need to improve public schools because they are blinded by money coming from teachers’ unions. To my mind, the unions are more intent on protecting jobs for adults than improving schools for children.

But last week, conservative activists and Supreme Court justices lost me.

They suggested it is corrupt for union money to pour into Democratic coffers while ignoring all the corporate money pouring into Republican campaigns.

It is outright hypocrisy to protect your own donors while demonizing the people giving money to your opponent.

The amount of money contributed to Republicans by big corporations, anonymous wealthy individuals, the Chamber of Commerce and billionaire activists like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson swamps the money unions give to Democrats.

As we saw with the recent cut in the corporate tax rate, those corporations and the richest Americans have a very clear, self-serving political agenda.

But you’d never know the truth by listening to oral arguments at the Supreme Court last week.

Justice Anthony Kennedy thinks only unions have a political agenda.

“If you don’t prevail… unions will have less political influence; yes or no?” Kennedy asked the lawyer representing public sector union AFSCME.

When the lawyer said yes — the union will be less politically influential with diminished dues collections — Kennedy responded: “Isn’t that the end of this case?”

Talk about political distortions coming from the mouth of a supposed impartial Justice.

The truth is that this case is not supposed to be about limiting the amount of political influence coming from unions.

It is a review of past court rulings requiring public sector workers to pay dues to unions even if they don’t join.

Its official title is Janus v. AFSCME. The plaintiff is Mark Janus, who works at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

Over the last 40 years, several Supreme Court rulings have affirmed that all workers — even those who don’t agree with their union’s political agenda — should at least pay an “agency fee” to support collective bargaining by unions to help all workers.

As Roman Catholic bishops argue in the current case, all workers benefit when unions are strong enough to negotiate for higher wages, better working conditions and increased benefits. It also satisfies the national interest in having peaceful labor relations.

Kennedy’s wayward comment about “political influence” reflects right-wing delight at the prospect of hurting Democrats.

If the Supreme Court rules against the union, reversing decades of its previous rulings, it will choke off a key stream of money for Democrats. Meanwhile, the price of campaigns continues to balloon and big business steadily ramps up its political contributions to Republicans.

All of this is distorting American politics and weakening our two-party political system. And it comes at a time of rising income inequality. Such a “partisan political issue…should be decided state by state…not once and for all, by unelected justices,” the Washington Post editorialized.

Kennedy’s purely political view of the Janus case is getting a big assist in the court of public opinion from conservative groups. They argue for individual workers to not pay dues when they disagree with union politics, claiming this is a matter of freedom of speech.

These same forces tried to deliver a killer blow to mandatory union dues in 2016 in a similar case. They were thwarted when Justice Antonin Scalia died before the case was decided, leading to a 4-4 deadlock between the court’s conservative and liberal justices.

Now, with Trump’s appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch, the court’s 5-4 conservative majority is ready to deliver the deathblow to Democrats.

Since the Tea Party wave in the 2010 midterm elections, the GOP has been intent on choking off the cash flow to public sector unions in order to limit financial support for Democratic candidates.

A majority of U.S. states  — 28 to be exact — are so-called “right to work” states. They prohibit mandatory union membership dues.

Those states are overwhelmingly led by Republican governors and GOP-dominated state legislatures. Recall how Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) became a conservative hero in 2011 for pushing a bill that ended collective bargaining for public employee unions.

With the midterms just eight months away, the Democrats find themselves high on polls showing strong anti-Trump passions. They are also buoyed by recent victories in state special elections including two last week in Connecticut and New Hampshire.

But for all the enthusiasm, the Democratic Party finds itself at a major cash disadvantage compared to Trump’s GOP.

According to January 2018 filings with the Federal Election Commission, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) raised $67 million in 2017 while the Republican National Committee (RNC) raised a whopping $132.5 million.

Of that haul, the RNC has $38.8 million cash on hand and no debt. The DNC has $6.5 million cash on hand but is in hock to the tune of $6.2 million.

One of the most underappreciated revelations in Donna Brazile’s tell-all book last year was her disclosure that, when she assumed the chairmanship of the DNC in 2016, she found a party languishing in over $24 million in debt.

Trump announced last week he is running for reelection in 2020. If the Supreme Court affirms a GOP monopoly on big dollar donations, the Democrats’ chance to defeat the incumbent will be grim.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.