American Rights at Work, Cutting the Corners

By February 6, 2009General, Labor Unions

The difficulties encountered by Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) in attempting to win confirmation as Secretary of Labor are at the very least casting a brighter light on the activities of American Rights at Work, the labor front group, lobbying group, whatever you want to call them.

Solis served as a board member and treasurer of the D.C.-based organization, which lobbies heavily for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and campaigns against federal candidates. It’s the latter role that’s now drawing attention. The D.C. Examiner comments, “Senators should ask Solis why she approved campaign spots paid for by her non-profit“:

Besides being a congressman, Solis is treasurer and a member of the board of directors of American Rights at Work (ARW), the 501c4, non-profit group that has received at least $1 million in contributions from labor unions. ARW spent more than $230,000 in 2007 and 2008 lobbying Congress on two bills Solis actively co-sponsored – the Employee Free Choice Act and the Public Safety Employer/Employee Cooperation Act. Both bills are top priorities for labor bosses who spent in excess of $300 million electing Democrats to Congress in 2008. Solis failed to note her role as ARW treasurer on her congressional disclosure reports, as she is required to do under House rules. As treasurer, she was required by IRS rules to account for all spending by the group, so her role was hardly ceremonial or passive, as claimed by her supporters.

But ARW also spent thousands of dollars on television spots described by the group in its report to the FEC as “electioneering communications.” Since as treasurer, Solis is required to approve all ARW spending, she must have signed off on the spots. This may well put her and ARW in violation of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002. Among the Republicans targeted by ARW were incumbents Norm Coleman, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Gordon Smith, and John Sununu. The anti-Sununu ad, for example, cost ARW $169,225 to air in New Hampshire, while another $69,105 paid for airing an anti-Coleman spot in Minnesota. So ARW clearly spent funds, with Solis’ knowledge and approval “in connection with an election for federal office.” Again, as treasurer, Solis could hardly have been in a ceremonial or passive participant.

Caught by the lack of clarity, regulatory overreach and free-speech chilling effects of McCain-Feingold? THAT’s never happened before. (For more commentary, see this post at Heritage by Hans von Spakosky.)

Our guess is that Rep. Solis, like most of the other members of the American Rights at Work board, served in an entirely honorific position, was asked to do little more than put her name on the letterhead and website, speak at an event or two and say good things about organized labor. The group’s IRS 990 for 2006 lists board members as putting in .31 hours of work a week, the equivalent of two workdays in a year. You can’t really fulfill the fiduciary duties of a treasurer in that little time, can you?

While disagreeing generally with her positions on labor issues, we’re finding it hard to get outraged at Rep. Solis’ pro-union activities, which seem entirely normal for a pro-union politician. But it sure seems like ARW routinely misrepresents its activities to the public, to the authorities, and even to its board members.

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