The Oregonian



Sizemore, Unions Clash Over Two Measures On Nov. 7 Ballot



The Associated Press



SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- Unions' ability to collect political money from more than 200,000 workers in Oregon – including public employees -- would be restricted under two measures on the November ballot.


But there's more to it than that.


The battle that's about to erupt over the two measures is an extension of an ongoing power struggle between unions and Oregon's leading anti-tax activist, Bill Sizemore, sponsor of both initiatives.


Labor unions that represent government workers commonly use a portion of member dues to finance the union's political activities.


Sizemore said those activities amount to unions campaigning for more government spending to keep union members employed and to boost their membership ranks in government.


But the state's top union leaders say Sizemore is only trying to make it easier to pass his own tax-cutting measures in future elections by stifling the voice of working men and women.


Unions shelled out $4.7 million to defeat a similar Sizemore effort two years ago, and spending on this fall's campaign likely will be in the "same neighborhood," campaign spokesman Sean Smith said.


In the coming week, Smith said, the unions are planning to launch a TV and radio advertising blitz aimed at persuading voters to reject Measures 92 and 98.


Sizemore's Measure 92 would require employees to provide annual written authorization before unions can levy payroll deductions for political purposes. The measure would affect workers in the public and private sectors.


Measure 98 would prohibit government from using public money or resources to assist in collection of union dues for political purposes by way of payroll deductions from public employees' paychecks.


Tim Nesbitt, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, said while he believes both measures are legally flawed and can be beaten in the Nov. 7 election, taken together they could financially cripple organized labor in Oregon.


"If both were passed and upheld by the courts, we would basically be shut out of the political process in Salem," Nesbitt said.


Sizemore said Measure 92 protects workers from having to contribute to political causes they might not support while Measure 98 would get state and local governments out of the business of facilitating unions' political activities.


"If government is collecting money from one side of the political debate and not the other, then government is influencing the outcome of the election, and I don't think that is a proper role for government," said Sizemore, who is head of Oregon Taxpayers United.


Political analyst Bill Lunch said Sizemore's measures are aimed at weakening those unions that in the past have raised the most money to fight Sizemore's various tax cut measures.


"The practical effect on these two measures would be to make it impossible for unions to raise any significant amount of money to contest Sizemore's ideas," the Oregon State University professor said.


"In future elections, Sizemore would have an open playing field in front of him. He would have no effective opposition," Lunch added.


Lunch and other critics said both Sizemore measures are broadly written and could have other effects behind crimping unions' ability to collect money.


Measure 92 could hurt charitable organizations that get money through payroll deductions because lobbying or other government contacts they make could be construed as "political activities" and thus would have to be expressly authorized by employees, Lunch said.


Further, Measure 98 could neutralize another measure on the Nov. 7 ballot that calls for public financing of campaigns because that would run afoul of Measure 98's ban on government resources being used to facilitate political activities, he said.


Sizemore said it's fine with him if his measure "trumps' the other one calling for publicly funded campaigns.


"It's abhorrent to tell a taxpayer they have to fund the campaign of a candidate they don't like," he said. "That's downright un-American."


Nesbitt, the AFL-CIO chief, said opponents of Sizemore's measures will spend the coming weeks working to persuade Oregon voters that all people, not just union members, have a stake in defeating the two measures.


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