State gov't aid to union politics defended

Texas State Rep. Leo Berman has asked for an attorney general's opinion on whether teachers unions can lawfully fund political campaigns with money deducted from payroll checks. Berman, chair of the House Election's Committee, said his request is a direct challenge to the Texas State Teachers Association Political Action Committee, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported. The union tends to contribute more to Democrats than Republicans.

"Is it permissible for government resources to be utilized to process government paycheck deductions for political campaign donations?" Berman, of Tyler, asks in the request.

Deductions from teachers' payroll checks are voluntary. School districts process the authorizations, which include union dues and political contributions to association PACs.

Berman objects to using state time and resources to administer the deductions. He said school district employees and resources which are funded by taxpayer dollars are being used regularly to collect and distribute political contributions.

"The Democrats have raised a lot of their money through the teachers' unions," said Berman. "So through using the payroll deduction process, they're using state funds, state equipment and state time to raise political money. That doesn't fit with Texas state law."

Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association said he was surprised by Berman's request.

"This was debated when the payroll deduction bill was passed," Kouri said. "I think the legislative intent was clear, that adults can decide how to spend their money. And that the deduction system set up for things like the United Way and insurance and other things can be used for this purpose, too. Perhaps (Berman) doesn't have as much legislative history as I do."

Berman pointed to a Texas Ethics Commission ruling that said "the use of state equipment or state employees' work time to handle campaign contributions or expenditures is a misapplication of state property."


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