Anti-Pension Reform Lawmakers Cash in with Unions
Monday, February 06, 2012
The 17 local lawmakers who voted against the pension reform legislation last November will likely have some explaining to do to voters in the coming months. But that didn’t stop unions from ponying up thousands of dollars to help support them during the final three months of 2011.
A GoLocalProv analysis of campaign finance reports shows more than a dozen union political action committees (PACs) contributed at least $45,880 to the anti-reform legislators during the fourth quarter of the year, with all but three officials receiving at least $2,000.
Leading the way was Rep. Scott Guthrie (D-Dist. 28, Coventry), a retired firefighter who received $4,840 from union PACs in December. State Senator Frank Ciccone (D-Dist. 7, Providence, North Providence), a field representative for the Rhode Island Laborers' District Council Local 808, was next with $3,740. District 6 State Rep. Ray Hull ($3,700), District 63 Rep. Roberto DaSilva ($3,600) and District 35 Rep. Spencer Dickinson ($3,090) rounded out the top five recipients.
The bill, which switches public employees to a 401k-style hybrid plan, freezes cost-of-living-adjustments for retirees and alters the retirement age, overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the General Assembly and was signed into law by Governor Chafee. The sweeping overhaul of the pension system immediately cut the state’s unfunded pension liability by $3 billion and will save taxpayers nearly $300 million by 2013, according to General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, who was widely viewed as the leader of reform movement.
The majority of the legislators who voted against the bill have long been connected to labor, whether it was through supporting binding arbitration or other union-backed legislation in recent years. But while many of their colleagues were criticized by labor groups for turning their backs on the unions during the pension reform vote, the 17 held their ground.
Lincoln Teachers Association – Donated $300 to every lawmakers voting against the bill.
RI State Association of Firefighters - Gave between $300 and $500 to all lawmakers except Sen. John Tassoni, who is not running for re-election.
Rhode Island Federation of Teachers – Contributed between $300-$600 to all legislators except Tassoni
RI Council 94, AFSCME AFL-CIO – Contributed $500 to all legislators except Tassoni, Rep. Peter Palumbo and Rep. John DeSimone.
National Education Association - Gave between $250 and $1,000 to all legislators except Tassoni.
Asked if the contributions were an indication that his union would support each candidate who voted against the legislation during election season, National Education Association government relations director Pat Crowley said it was too early to talk about elections.
"Our members take political engagement very seriously,” Crowley said. “Right now we are focused on the ongoing legislative session and decisions about the next election will come later.”
Anti-Reformers “Out of Touch”
But the anti-pension reform legislators will likely need the support, especially with EngageRI –the wealthy group that spent over $500,000 lobbying for the pension overhaul— suggesting it is willing to spend money on the elected officials who did support the bill.
During the 4th quarter, the EngageRI PAC contributed $1,000 each to the accounts of House Speaker Gordon Fox, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, House Majority Leader Nick Mattiello, Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio, House Finance Chairman Helio Melo and Senate Finance chairman Daniel DaPonte.
State Republican Party executive director Patrick Sweeney called the group that voted against the legislation “out of touch” and said they deserve to face challenges. The State GOP has said its goal is to more-than double the amount of seats it holds in the General Assembly from 18 to 45.
“It just goes to show how out of touch those against pension reform are with the taxpayers of Rhode Island,” Sweeney said. “From Barrington to West Warwick, it is the sole issue suffocating municipalities. Everyone needs to pay their fair share. We can't keep putting the burden on the taxpayers.”
An Attack on Labor
Those voting against the reforms will also face backlash from the Ocean State Tea Party in Action, according to Lisa Blais, who heads up the group. Blais said the group is currently putting together a website that profiles every legislator with a connection to labor and reveals their voting record on controversial issues.
Blais said unions have done "a fine job" of electing their own into the House and Senate for many years, but now it is time to realize how much money they are costing taxpayers.
“We have a number of legislators who not only have accepted significant portions of campaign donations from labor as compared with their total take but also who stand with public sector labor regardless of donations,” said. “This is a result of their employment, past employment or promises made. It's important to look at their voting records on controversial issues. Those records tell the story."
Blais ripped labor leaders for not caring about the fiscal health of the state.
“Public sector labor leaders have made it quite clear that they don't give a damn about the fiscal health of all Rhode Island citizens, our cities, towns or our state,” she said. “They fought pension reform, have commenced litigation against the citizens of RI yet always claim they are willing to talk. Talk is cheap and their actions cost taxpayers money.”
If you valued this article, please LIKE GoLocalProv.com on Facebook by clicking HERE.