March 11, 2009
Talk About Overt Political Pressure - UPDATED THRICE

Scroll down for updates - E.

A potentially troublesome bill on "worker privacy" has been shelved according to multiple reports. Most interesting is this bit from the Times coverage:

Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate announced this morning that they will no longer consider taking action on a worker privacy proposal because of an e-mail that linked action on the bills to campaign contributions...


Gregoire, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and House Speaker Frank Chopp issued a joint statement that said the matter has been forwarded to the State Patrol for investigation.

The Democratic leaders said that "Immediately upon becoming aware of an email linking potential action on the bill to campaign contributions, bringing the bill forward was no longer an option....The email raises serious legal and ethical questions."

It would appear someone, or multiple persons, in the organized labor community may have crossed a specific line in lobbying on the bill, by specifically stating that campaign contributions would be tied to action on the legislation in question.

That creates an explicit problem. Compare for example languages expressed via resolution by some local WEA affiliates in opposing the original education legislation covered here by Publicola. The assembled affiliates passed a resolution, forwarded to the Legislature, noting they:

will not recommend, support or endorse in any manner, a [legislator] who votes for [the original legislation] as currently constituted or as may be amended or such other legislation that incorporates the intent or components of [said bills].

They, "will actively oppose the re-election in 2010 and 2012, of any [legislator] who votes in favor of [the legislation]" and furthermore "will not participate-in, condone or support in any manner efforts to modify or amend [the legislation]."

The resolution concludes noting that its text will be disseminated to a number of persons and organizations, including "all WEA-PAC members" relevant to the objecting WEA affiliates. Gee, what does a PAC do? Give money by chance?

Either way, both are examples of organized labor playing absolute hardball. The WEA affiliates in question objected mightily to prudent education reform [pdf], that happened to have impressive cross-aisle support. Not only did they object, they said they refused to participate in even working on the bill. Their message: take your proposed accountability and shove it!

They just weren't foolish enough to explicitly link campaign contributions to their preferred legislative action.

For background, the Everett Herald mostly recently opined on the "worker privacy" bill in question:

Labor issues are also key. Now is not the time for the Legislature to be entertaining dramatic changes in labor law, particularly the "Worker Privacy Act" now being considered. Such a law, which exists in no other state, would prohibit employers from requiring workers to attend certain meetings, including ones dealing with labor relations. It addresses a problem that we don't think exists, and sends exactly the wrong signal to employers in aerospace and other industries.

The Seattle Times weighed in earlier as well:

This bill is entirely one-sided: It restricts employers but not unions. It tilts the balance in a way that has not been done in any other state. And already Washington is one of the most union-friendly states.

The Legislature should scrap this bill and focus on balancing the budget.

Nice of the Governor and the Legislature to oblige, though probably not via the means anyone might have guessed.

UPDATE: Jerry Cornfiled has a helpful timeline of how the email in question quickly led to shutting down all consideration of the bill.

UPDATE II: The Seattle Times article on the affair has identified the Washington State Labor Council as the potential culprit:

Knowledgeable sources who have read the e-mails said they came from the Washington State Labor Council. All calls to the group were referred to its president, Rick Bender. He could not be reach for comment.

However, Bender e-mailed a statement to the news media saying: "We regret the incident. It was a result of frustration with the Legislature's failure to protect workers' rights in the workplace. Our job is to always protect workers' rights. We do not believe that any law has been violated and we have no additional comments until we know where this will go."

UPDATE III: The Seattle Times has the text of the offending email:

Union leaders would send a message to the State Democratic party and to the Truman and Roosevelt funds from the House and Senate that "not another dime from labor" until the Governor signs the Worker Privacy Act.

It will be interesting to see what the actual legal problem is here. This language is not wildly different than that which passionate interest groups send to their members in the heat of policy fights. That said, the "not another dime" could clearly have taken things over a legal line. Moreover, if labor were actually serious about no money to all the referenced Democratic organizations then we're taking about A LOT of left-of-center campaign cash up in the air.

Posted by Eric Earling at March 11, 2009 11:24 AM | Email This
1. The Labor Council apparently canceled a noon presser.

Now - without knowing the contents of the e-mail or who sent it - does anybody honestly think if it was the business community that sent it, the Labor Council wouldn't be screaming bloody murder?

Instead, they schedule a presser and then cancel it with no explanation.

Posted by: jimg on March 11, 2009 11:30 AM
2. Without knowing the specific wording of the email, it's hard to know what to think about this. As pointed out, lots of groups say they will campaign for or against a politician based on how they vote, or promise to vote. They often promise unspecified donations. Afterwards, donations either happen or don't.

Since none of this seems to have been illegal in the past, I must speculate that perhaps there was an actual dollar amount mentioned in this particular email.

Posted by: SouthernRoots on March 11, 2009 12:10 PM
3. Isn't it implicit in the statement we will actively oppose any legislator who votes for X that they intend to withhold campaign contributions to that person? So, the only difference here is that they explicitly said they would, and suddenly it makes a huge difference in appearance of impropriety? What a joke.

Posted by: Palouse on March 11, 2009 12:31 PM
4. Prudent? The prudent education bill that didn't have any funding attached to it, would have eliminated levy equalization for the property-poor school districts, would have eliminated class size reduction money, would have mandated getting National Board Certification, would have put yet another layer of half-assed accountability on top of what schools already deal with from the feds, would have kicked a bunch of decisions to committees that were created by the bill......that prudent bill?

It might seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the things that the WEA is against are actually bad for schools.

Posted by: Ryan on March 11, 2009 12:38 PM
5. It's only an issue because the e-mail is archived and recorded communication. Had this message been delivered via other means, the bills would have never been pulled and would have likely passed.

Posted by: Smoley on March 11, 2009 01:21 PM
6. Nothing shocking here. We all already know that Gregoire and the rest of the D's are all bought and paid for by organized labor and Indian tribes.

Only difference here is that there is apparently some incriminating evidence of what anybody with a brain already knows or at least suspects.

Of course, we'll have to wait to see the email to know just how serious it is. However, if they tabled a bill so highly coveted by their union masters, the Gov & D's must be really worried about it.

Posted by: Kato on March 11, 2009 01:25 PM
7. I don't understand why the shelved it. The average voter doesn't read blogs, and wouldn't know about it anyways. Seem to me the governor is being a tad paranoid!

Posted by: Crusader on March 11, 2009 01:34 PM
8. Apparently the Labor Council fessed up and admitted it.

Posted by: jimg on March 11, 2009 02:18 PM
9. Re #6 (Kato):
You forgot to mention the trial lawyers and environmentalists who are also part-owners. Their interests parallel those of unions and tribes.

Posted by: Paddy on March 11, 2009 02:53 PM
10. I wonder if we'll ever see the actual email, or if it will have to be a Public Disclosure Request that forces it out and into the open.

Posted by: Seattle on March 11, 2009 03:45 PM
11. Eric,

Lets not talk about 2010 and 2012.

You need to go back six months...wasn't this the main stipulation/reason for the unions supporting Gregoire over Rossi for Gov.? I bet the email mentions or implies the 2008 election also...could border on extortion?

How many unions are suing Gregoire? Four or Five...She just may be in trouble.

Posted by: Glenno on March 11, 2009 03:48 PM
12. To paraphrase a popular meme in Presidential politics these days, imagine the screeching from the left if the NRA, or someone associated or affiliated with it, had sent such an email...

Posted by: D.W. Drang on March 11, 2009 04:37 PM
Brilliant! That's all it takes? We could all chip in a buck and shut down Olympia by promising the democrats campaign contributions for pushing their socialist agenda. The total cost to shut down the legislature will be less than my monthly trip to costco.

Posted by: Andy on March 11, 2009 07:19 PM
14. me thinks they knew this bill stunk and did not want to support it. they used the email as an excuse not to support it, without having to look like they don't actually support it, and they look all ethical.

Either way, it's a good thing the bill is dead.

Posted by: Daryl on March 11, 2009 08:45 PM
15. Odd that none of the screeching winged monkey leftists have weighed in on this. I won der what's the hold up?

Wiz? Factless? Dumbo? Pacto? Why the silence?

Posted by: Hinton on March 12, 2009 12:26 AM
16. @Daryl:
They look all ethical? Hardly. In fact, their complete and utter lack of ethics just kind of poked the tip of its nose to the surface where the public eye can see. Now it's all damage control. Wait for the spin. That should be interesting.

Come on, who is really surprised here? Gregoire is involved? Was she really any better as AG?

Keep in mind this is the same governor and legislature that eliminated a healthy surplus and brought us to a budget deficit in only one gubernatorial term.

Posted by: Wollombi on March 12, 2009 09:00 AM
17. Extortion, outwresting, or exaction is a criminal offense, which occurs, when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person, entity, or institution, through coercion. Refraining from doing harm is sometimes euphemistically called protection. Extortion is commonly practiced by organized crime groups. The actual obtainment of money or property is not required to commit the offense. Making a threat of violence or a lawsuit which refers to a requirement of a payment of money or property to halt future violence or lawsuit is sufficient to commit the offense. Exaction refers not only to extortion or the unlawful demanding and obtaining of something through force,[1] additionally, exact in its formal definition means the infliction of something such as pain and suffering or to make somebody endure something unpleasant.[2]

In the United States, extortion may also be committed as a federal crime across a computer system, phone, by mail or in using any instrument of “interstate commerce.” Extortion requires that the individual sent the message “willingly” and “knowingly” as elements of the crime. The message only has to be sent (but does not have to reach the intended recipient) to commit the crime of extortion.

Extortion is distinguished from blackmail. In blackmail, the blackmailer threatens to do something which would be legal or normally allowed.

Extortion is distinguished from robbery. In “strong arm” robbery, the offender takes goods from the victim with use of immediate force. In “robbery” goods are taken or an attempt is made to take the goods against the will of another—with or without force. A bank robbery or extortion of a bank can be committed by a letter handed by the criminal to the teller. In extortion, the victim is threatened to hand over goods, or else damage to their reputation or other harm or violence against them may occur. Under federal law extortion can be committed with or without the use of force and with or without the use of a weapon. A key difference is that extortion always involves a written or verbal threat whereas robbery can occur without any verbal or written threat (refer to U.S.C. 875 and U.S.C. 876).

Posted by: nexusunit on March 12, 2009 11:31 PM
18. HHhhmmmmm.... Still nothing but cricket-chirps from our fringe left nutters... odd, that.

Posted by: Hinton on March 13, 2009 08:20 AM
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