Leaders of Pennsylvania’s public employee unions regularly lobby state legislative leaders in person, via e-mail, and by phone, despite the fact none of them are registered to do so as required by the state’s lobbying law.
Wendell W. Young IV, head of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1776; Rick Bloomingdale and Frank Snyder, president and secretary treasurer of the state AFL-CIO respectively; and David Fillman, executive director of Council 13 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union are not registered with the Pennsylvania Department of State.
Under the state law, passed in 2006, lobbying includes all “direct” and “indirect” communication “the purpose or foreseeable outcome of which is to effect legislative action or administrative action.”
“I couldn’t speak to each and every one of them lobbying personally, but some of them have been in here and we receive e-mails from all of them on a regular basis,” said Erik Arneson, chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware).
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa’s staff could not determine whether the labor leaders ever spoke with Costa on pending legislative issues, despite repeated calls to his office. Costa, from Pittsburgh, is a major ally in the Senate of organized labor, public and private.
The lobbying law is intended to provide public transparency of who lobbyists are and who they represent, the amount of money they spend on direct and indirect communications, and for gifts and expense paid travel for lawmakers and other government officials. The state’s 1,345 registered lobbyists are required by the law to file quarterly reports with the Department of State, detailing their spending and activities.
The union leaders employ lobbyists, either employees or contracted private lobbyists who are registered, but state law defines “lobbyist” as “Any individual…that engages in lobbying on behalf of a principal for economic consideration” and a “principal” as “an individual…that engages in lobbying on the principal’s own behalf.”
The continuing presence of labor leaders in the halls of the Capitol and in the offices of lawmakers, along with verification from lawmakers and staffers, raises questions about compliance with the 2006 law, which was passed in response to public outcries for legislative reforms.
“Wendell Young and other leaders of organized labor are frequently in touch to discuss legislative issues with [House Minority Leader] Rep. [Frank] Dermody by phone, or in person, and have been doing so for years,” said Dermody press secretary Bill Patton. “The same is true for Republican House leaders.”
U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) documents also confirm the union bosses lobby, with Young admitting he spends at least eight percent of his time on “political activities and lobbying.” Young’s 2013 salary was $292,765.
During “UFCW Lobbying Day” at the Capitol building at the end of April, John O’Connell — who is listed on state records as a lobbyist for UFCW — was asked why Young was not registered as a lobbyist and replied, “I don’t know the answer to that question.”
Fillman’s DOL data states he spends 15 percent of his time on the “political activities and lobbying. His salary was $205,000 in 2013.
Last year, AFSCME played a major role in stopping Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s attempt to privatize the operation of the state lottery system. State lottery employees are members of AFSCME.
Its federal filing shows AFSCME spent $813,000 in 2013 on “political and lobbying activities”, but reported only $437,000 as total lobbying costs to the state. It has two in-house, registered lobbyists who earned a combined $282,000 last year.
AFSCME additionally paid $117,000 to the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO for “legislative” activities; $32,251 to Shelly Communications for “communications” and $50,000 to the Keystone Research Center, a labor-funded think tank. All were grouped under “lobbying and political activities.”
Council 13, in its filing with the state, lists 85 areas of state government lobbying interests ranging from accounting to workers’ compensation and everything in between.
The state AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization for all AFL-affiliated unions, is not required to file with the federal government. Bloomingdale made $236,974 and Snyder made $217,497 in 2012.
The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO also spent $260,000 on the CLEAR Coalition in 2012, a lobbying organization run by the state AFL-CIO and funded by unions across Pennsylvania.
The state’s lobbying law, passed in 2006, contains punishments and disciplines ranging from a simple warning for perceived oversights to investigation and possible prosecution by the state Attorney General’s office.
The quarterly lobbying reports of 1,345 people who are registered as state lobbyists are audited by the Department of State every two years via a selection of three percent of state filings. A private, independent accounting firm audits those 39-40 filings. The name of the auditing firm and the results remain confidential, unless released by the state.
This story was originally published at Media Trackers.