The GOP nominee made a statement today that teachers' unions should not be allowed to make political contributions to campaigns of those running for officeholders. Romney's position, as reported on NBC's Education Summit, was this:
“I believe that we simply can't have a setting where the teachers' unions are able to contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians and then those politicians, when elected, stand across from them at the bargaining table, supposedly to represent the interest of the kids ...”Romney was presumably flustered with the fact that teachers' unions contribute heavily to Democratic candidates, which might make them susceptible to being leveraged by educators who assisted in campaigns.
I take great issue with Romney's position.
Romney's opinion on this matter would stifle the First Amendment right of free speech for teachers' unions. The United States Supreme Court upheld the right of unions to make such contributions directly from union treasuries in Citizens United v. FEC (2010). The Court's opinion on the matter stated that unions and corporations were privy to the same political speech expressed by individuals who donated to political campaigns or freely spent on their own accord.
I wouldn't have as much of a problem with Romney's position on unions if it weren't for his blatant hypocrisy. Ironically, that same ruling allowing union contributions also permitted corporations the same spending privileges. Mitt Romney seemed to have no problem with that portion of the Supreme Court's ruling, as he has defended the rights of corporations to spend 'tens of millions of dollars' in assisting the candidates of their choice, as he has repeatedly defended the decision in the Citizens United case.
I can't understand how Romney sees a conflict of interest when teachers' unions support Democratic candidates, but when corporations support any candidate, he has no problem with that. By his logic, would a corporation not have the same leverage over any candidate it supports?
Furthermore, Bain Capital, an investing group that Romney co-founded, has benefited from the ability to spend money on political campaigns. According to disclosures by Bain Capital to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), that company has spent nearly $5 million on campaigns and other political activities in 2011-2012. Would Mitt Romney somehow distinguish this from the National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest teacher union? I would be interested in hearing why a distinction is made between the two.
Worth mentioning is the fact that Bain Capital has holdings valued at over $65 billion, including numerous companies that may also contribute to electioneering activities, thus greatly amplifying their political influence through those corporations. Some of the notable groups in the Bain portfolio include Toys 'R' Us, The Weather Channel, AMC Entertainment, Dunkin' Donuts, and Domino's Pizza. (For a complete list, see the Bain Portfolio.)
Examining several companies on the list of Bain's holdings reveals many of them contributed directly to Romney's campaign, not even including outside spending on election activities on his behalf. Is he not subject to undue influence from Bain or its holdings should he be elected?
Moreover, the complaints about teachers' unions spending -- which totals approximately $16 million (between the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers) in the 2011-2012 election cycle -- is a mere pittance when compared to other industries. According to figures accumulated from OpenSecrets.org, several other industries are donating figures that dwarf the numbers from teachers' unions. The area of finance, insurance, and real estate has interest groups that have spent over $400 million in the same election cycle. Lawyers total over $160 million. Where's the outrage on that type of spending? Romney's slight against teachers' unions is also a thinly veiled jab at Democrats, who have the bulk of support from educators in the United States.
One of the rights of both individuals and groups in the United States is the ability to support the candidates or political party of your choosing. It only stands to reason that you would support those who most closely fit your views. Romney also overlooks the fact that most candidates won't accept money from groups, unions, or corporations they don't already agree with. Money doesn't buy a candidate -- it buys access to a candidate. Will an office holder consider the position of individuals or groups who financially support their candidacy? Absolutely, but that doesn't equate to 'vote-buying'.
As an educator, I'm frustrated that Romney would try to devalue the ability of my union to contribute in the manner that benefits him through corporations. I also find it concerning that his position has a very partisan feel to it. Though I'm not an ardent supporter of President Obama, I can effectively say I will not vote for Mitt Romney.
Gary Johnson and the Libertarians are looking better by the moment.