Florida Court to Unions: Raising Political Funds on School Property is Illegal

Just as unionists are gearing up for the 2000 elections, Fla. Education Ass’n has lost a court battle that bars soliciting campaign donations on school property. Ending a four-year suit, Fla.’s First Dist. Court of Appeal upheld Aug. 10 a Fla. Elections Comm’n ruling that could have far-reaching impacts on the way many  government employee unions collect political contributions. The court held that unions break the law when they give employees forms at work to make campaign donations.

The requests for money are supposed to be sent to employees at home or off the work site. But union bosses acknowledge it is more persuasive to seek money at work. The union fought vigorously for the right to solicit for political money on school campuses, even bringing in Nat’l Education Ass’n attorneys from Washington to help argue their case.

The case began with charges the Marion County Education Ass’n violated a state law designed to avoid corruption. The law, which is similar to laws in at least 15 other states, bans the solicitations of campaign funds in schools and other government offices. The complaint was brought to the  commission in 1996 by Chuck Pardee, an real estate broker and Republican activist who says he had the idea after losing his own bid for local public office. Pardee discovered the local teachers union had been soliciting campaign money from teachers on forms that also ask the employees to pay union dues. According to a commission investigation, the forms are routinely placed in teachers’ mailboxes at school, completed by teachers wishing to join the union and returned to union representatives at school.

“Government should not be in the business of acting as a bag man for any one political group,” said Ron Nehring, director of national campaigns for Americans for Tax Reform. “You do not want to have government facilities becoming places where political shakedowns routinely happen…. It undermines the legitimacy of government.”

Close to one third of the FEA’s membership is Republican while the remainder are registered Democrats. [Sun-Sent. (Ft. Lauderdale) 8/19/00]