Judges overturn ban on use of union money for political purposes

Thursday, March 12, 1998

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A state appeals court has upheld the portion of a 1995 state campaign-finance law that prohibits the solicitation of contributions from public employees at the workplace.

However, the 10th Ohio District Court of Appeals, in a decision dated March 10, struck down provisions of the law that ban the use of union money for political purposes and prohibit payroll deductions as a way for public employees to contribute.

Judges Michael Close, Donna Bowman and Dana Deshler ruled that the ban on union money restricted the rights of unions to act as organizations of their members.

Several unions, including the Ohio Education Association and the United Auto Workers, sued the state over the law.

The state, which appealed the Franklin County Common Pleas Court’s 1996 decision in the case, said the ban was justified because it discouraged corruption and protected members who oppose their union’s political views.

The appeals court said those concerns did not justify an outright ban that deprives members of their First Amendment right of free expression.

“The prohibition on direct partisan political expression by labor organizations strikes at the core of the electoral process and constitutional freedom of speech,” the judges wrote in a 48-page opinion.

The court also said union members who disagree with their union’s political views have other avenues available, such as asking for a refund of the portion of their dues spent for political purposes.

“This court does not accept that nothing short of a total ban on the use of union funds will suffice to protect minority interests,” the judges said.

The court said the ban on payroll deductions unfairly targeted public employees. The OEA, Ohio’s largest teachers union, wanted the ban lifted.

“This court finds that making payroll deduction for political contributions available to private employees, but not public employees, disadvantages public employees and impinges upon their free-speech rights,” the judges said.

However, the judges said the state was within its rights to prohibit workplace solicitation of public employees for political contributions. They said public bodies have the right to control of their property.

Political solicitations are “disruptive to workplace efficiency” and thus a ban on them is reasonable, the court said.

Attorney General Betty Montgomery’s office received a copy of the ruling on March 11 and had no immediate comment, spokesman Chris Davey said. Telephone calls to Donald McTigue, a lawyer representing the UAW, were not answered.

The 1995 law also placed a $2,500 cap on what candidates can accept from individual contributors. The cap for political-action committees is $5,000. Those parts of the law were not challenged.