Hales Wants to Start Collecting Big Checks from Unions
Mayoral candidate Charlie Hales was first to come forward this summer with limits on the size of the checks he'd accept ahead of the general election: No more than $600 from any one donor. He made the announcement after taking a few last-second major gifts under the wire—in part, he said, to pay off lingering bills from the primary. Now comes word from the campaign of his beleaguered rival, Jefferson Smith—who later followed suit with a $1,000 limit—that Hales is hoping to change the rules by arguing a technicality. Hales wrote Smith a letter (pdf) suggesting both campaigns drop the limits on supportive unions by letting them write checks "at a rate of no more than $50 per member." The unions could use that money, reported as an "in-kind contribution" on Hales' finance forms, to directly purchase things like airtime and mailers and door-knockers on behalf of the campaigns. A union with, say, 100 members would be able to give Hales a contribution that amounts to $5,000. One might also call it an independent-expenditure-lit: Letting unions do the heavy lifting and spend their own money as they see fit will free the campaign to spend its own money and put Hales somewhat off the hook for the messaging those groups provide. Hales' letter explains by noting his initial goal was to "limit the role of large individual or corporate contributions." He argues that this will allow unions to empower working people to get more involved and have a voice. Of course, nothing's already stopping those members from donating the $50 on their own—they'd even get a state tax credit for it, so it wouldn't cost a thing. But the campaign has been hearing from union members who complain that they already pay dues that are supposed to be used to support candidates, and that they can't afford the extra check. "The big change here is that these folks have gotten more involved in our campaign," Hales explains to me. Asked, then, why not encourage members to give on their own and provide the tax form necessary to make it zero-cost for members who feel "shut out": "We're not going to ask them to go outside their union. That wouldn't be very nice." [ Subscribe to the comments on this story ]
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Oct. 17, 2012
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