Political contributions should be voluntary

Editorial

A fundamental American freedom is being able to spend — or not spend — one’s own money on political campaigns, for persons or initiatives. Money forcibly taken from a person to support a candidate or initiative that the person opposes is a form of tyranny.

In early November the U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearings on one of the most important cases in this area, Washington vs. Washington Education Association. In it, the state of Washington is defending Proposition 134, which voters passed with 72 percent of the vote in 1992, against a powerful union, the WEA. The appeal is to overturn a March 2006 ruling by the Washington state Supreme Court that Prop. 134 is unconstitutional.

Under state and federal law, even nonunion teachers must be represented by the WEA for collective bargaining purposes on their teaching contracts, and have dues for that purpose deducted from their paychecks. That’s not at issue.

At issue are teachers who are not members of the WEA, and whether the WEA can take additional money from nonmembers’ paychecks to be used for political purposes. Under Prop. 134, this is not allowed. Instead, a nonunion teacher must “affirmatively authorize” use of the money for union political activities.

Michael Reitz, director and legal analyst for the Labor Policy Center of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a conservative Washington state think tank that is helping the workers, said Supreme Court case law already allows a nonunion employee to opt out of the use of political dues for political purposes by a public or private union.

But the employee must take the first action, requesting a refund of the money.
Prop. 134, if upheld, would reverse the process, making the union ask nonunion employees first if their money can be used for political purposes. This is important because many employees simply don’t realize the money is being deducted from their paychecks.

The U.S. Supreme Court will begin briefings on the case Nov. 8 and likely will decide the case next year. We urge the court to uphold Prop. 134. Coercion should play no role in raising money for political campaigns.