Three Republican Federal Election Commissioners have found that unions or corporations can compel employees to campaign for political candidates in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.
In a Statement of Reasons memorandum signed on August 21, 2012, the commissioners contend that the United Public Workers union (UPW) was within its legal right to require employees to “provide support for Hawaii Fist Congressional District candidate Colleen Hanabusa’s candidacy in a special congressional election on May 22, 2010.” The case stemmed from a complaint in wich two employees alleged that they were fired after refusing “to comply with a UPW request to sign-wave, phone bank, canvass, and contribute to Hanabusa’s campaign.” The GOP commissioners found that current law and regulations do not prohibit employers from requiring participation:
UPW’s independent use of its paid workforce to campaign for a federal candidate post-Citizen’s United was not contemplated by Congress and, consequently, is not prohibited by either the Act or Commission regulations…. Requiring employees to work on independent expenditures for either the union or a non-connected political committee is not a violation of the Act or Commission regulations.
The Commission ultimately found that UPW “failed to report independent expenditures” which resulted from the employee participation in Hanabusa’s campaign, but concluded that the union did not coerce employees to make contributions. UPW has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $5,500 for “failing to report independent expenditures in support of a federal candidate.”
In a separate Statement of Reasons memorandum, the three Democratic FEC commissioners argued that UPW did in fact coerce “employees to participate in the union’s political activities” in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. “After Citizens United, UPW had every right to expressly advocate for its chosen candidate and against her opponent,” they wrote. “Nothing in Citizens United suggests, however, that the Court intended to expand the rights of corporations and unions at the expense of their employees’ longstanding rights to be free from coercion and to express or to decline to express their own political views.”