The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is among the many partners that the Obama administration has relied upon in its ongoing effort to socialize the U.S. economy. Indeed, the SEIU has been a special partner. That’s because President Andrew Stern (in photo) has operated as a lobbyist all but in name. A major Washington, D.C. conservative nonprofit organization and a related group are putting the union on alert that this may be illegal. For the second time in less than a month, Americans for Tax Reform and an affiliate, the Alliance for Worker Freedom, have asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether White House visits by a top union official exceeded the allowable threshold for persons not registered as lobbyists. The last time around, the inquiry centered upon Stern. This time around, it is focusing on the union’s secretary-treasurer, Anna Burger.
Union Corruption Update reported last month that Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) and the Alliance for Worker Freedom (AWF) jointly had written a letter dated November 13 to three persons – Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Channing D. Phillips, U.S. Senate Secretary Nancy Erickson, and U.S. House of Representatives Clerk Lorraine C. Miller. The purpose of the correspondence was to request a probe into whether Stern’s visits to the White House had violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995. Stern had been a registered lobbyist until January 2007. But in devoting what appeared to be more than 20 percent of his White House-related time to activities defined by the LDA as “lobbying,” the Service Employees chieftain, now an ex-lobbyist, may have broken the law. The White House visitors log for the period January 20-July 13, 2009 showed that Stern visited 22 times, more than any one person. On six of those occasions, he met with President Obama. The law is specific that any person who spends more than 20 percent of his or her time engaged in lobbying must be registered as a lobbyist or face severe penalties. Evidence suggests his actions went well beyond the 20 percent mark.
Response thus far has been minimal. Senate Secretary Erickson did notify Stern of the complaint. The offices of the House Clerk and the U.S. Attorney apparently have not. And the SEIU hasn’t officially acknowledged the Senate statement. The complainants are staying on the case. Last Thursday, December 3, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist and Alliance for Worker Freedom Executive Director Brian Johnson wrote U.S. Attorney Phillips requesting that he probe SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Burger, who also chairs the labor federation, Change to Win.
The ATR and the AWF assert that the SEIU’s annual LM-2 financial disclosure forms submitted to the Labor Department for the years 2006 and 2007, both during which Ms. Burger was a registered lobbyist, she spent well over 20 percent of her time on politics and lobbying. Yet even since her delisting, they estimate she has spent 37 percent of her time in these areas. “Given her role as the head of the Change to Win Federation, her senior position with SEIU, and her appointment to Obama’s Economic Recovery Board, Burger is almost certain to have had enough contact with covered officials during relevant reporting periods to cause her to legally have to re-register,” said ATR President Grover Norquist. “Now, she is heading to the White House to participate in a jobs summit. I guess one way Obama can still work with lobbyists is to just have them not follow the same rules as everyone else – seems like politics as usual.”
The irony of all this is that during the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama repeatedly vowed, “Lobbyists won’t find a job in my White House.” In the case of the SEIU top leadership, that’s formally true. Andrew Stern and Anna Burger aren’t lobbyists any more. But, then, they already have jobs: fighting to obtain unprecedented privileges from the federal government on behalf of their own union and others. And evidence is overwhelming that the Obama administration has hired a dozen or more former lobbyists for top positions, a list that includes Attorney General Eric Holder, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and, apropos this discussion, White House Political Affairs Director Patrick Gaspard, who’d previously lobbied on behalf of the SEIU. If the president wants to be known as a man of accountability, this isn’t the way to do it. But the Service Employees won’t mind. It’s a union seemingly used to cutting ethical corners.