Imagine after months of searching, you find the house of your dreams. Then you realize the real estate agent helping you also represents the sellers.
The agent meets with the sellers in private and tells you the lowest price they will accept. The “lowest” price is suspiciously close to the top of your budget.
The agent knows you love the house and the maximum you can pay. You know the agent would benefit from a higher price in the form of a bigger commission check. You can’t help but be suspicious.
You buy the house, but always wonder whether your agent really pushed for the best bargain, or if he negotiated a higher price so he could earn a bigger commission.
This describes what happens every two years when our governor meets in secret with union executives to negotiate state workers’ wage and benefit contracts.
Before, during and after collective bargaining negotiations state employee unions contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the governor’s political campaign. In 2016, just two of the unions that negotiate directly with the governor gave nearly $700,000 to re-elect him.
Unions left the negotiating table with the largest across-the-board increases for state employees since they gained full collective bargaining rights, costing state taxpayers around $600 million over two years.
Considering the two unions collect up to 3.2 percent of each worker’s wages as mandatory dues or fees, it isn’t hard to see the payoff.
Of course, it is possible the governor did drive a hard bargain on behalf of the state.
The problem is the perception of a quid pro quo casts doubt and suspicion on the whole process.
State Bill 5533 is a simple solution to this problem, prohibiting political contributions to candidates for governor from unions that collectively bargain with the state.
Concerns over secret quid pro quo deals is why current law prohibits insurance companies in the state from giving political contributions to candidates for insurance commissioner.
This restriction ensures insurance companies do not exert undue financial influence on, or extract favors from, the person who regulates their industry. The absence of any perception of a conflict of interest benefits the public, the industry and the insurance commissioner.
As the elected representative of the people, the governor’s priority should be serving the best interests of the public. When the governor is taking political money while engaging in secret contract negotiations with the unions making those contributions, it is easy to wonder who the governor is representing.
SB 5533 would eliminate the financial incentive for unions to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect the governor, and in doing so would restore public confidence in the election system, the negotiating process and the governor’s office.
Erin Shannon is director of the Center for Small Business & Labor Reform.