How Are Unions Funding Opposition to a Vote on Public Funding of the New Sacramento Kings Arena?

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A few construction trade unions have joined a Sacramento-based political committee and have made or pledged contributions to this committee to ensure that citizens in the City of Sacramento don’t get to vote to derail the city’s arrangement with the owners of the Sacramento Kings professional basketball team to build a new arena.

As I most recently reported in Request for Proposal for Prime Contractor for New Sacramento Kings Arena Refers to Project Labor Agreement with Construction Unions, contractors will probably be required to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of working on the arena construction. Unions have been waiting for the opportunity to build a new arena for many years, and they are intent on seeing it built – under a union monopoly.

An August 1, 2013 article in the Sacramento Bee (PAC Pushes Sacramento Arena Vote but Won’t Say Where It Is Getting Money) reported that an organization called DowntownArena.org revealed the source of “nearly $15,000” of contributions received or pledged for a campaign opposed to a ballot initiative that would stop the arena arrangement. This group consists mainly of local business groups (including construction trade associations) and unions.

Meanwhile, many ordinary citizens in Sacramento (and the surrounding region as well) are unhappy with the idea that the city will borrow $212 million for construction of the $448 million arena by selling bonds, with the principal and interest paid back through fees on people who park in downtown Sacramento. A law firm in Southern California that has represented the former owners of the Kings has reportedly funded a campaign (STOP – Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, aka Stop Arena Subsidy) to collect signatures on petitions to qualify a ballot measure that would stop it. The initiative would prohibit the City of Sacramento from spending public money on a professional sports arena without approval of a majority of voters in an election.

Apparently based on information provided by the executive director of Region Builders, a trade association that established the DowntownArena.Org campaign, the Sacramento Bee article states that the “International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers donated $2,500.” Under the article, a list of donors includes “National Electrical Contractors Association/International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers: $2,500.”

The first reference is simply a union (with no local affiliation indicated), but the second reference combines a union AND a construction trade association. A contractor trade association and a union would not be making a joint contribution if the money came from their PACs or from their general operating budgets.

To confuse matters, the DowntownArena.org web site lists “IBEW Local 340” and “National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) of Sacramento” separately (not jointly) as supporters.

I’m wondering if the donor is actually the NECA/IBEW Northern California Labor-Management Cooperation Committee (LMCC). Why is the distinction important?

  1. If money comes from the union PAC and/or the association PAC, it means the source of the money to DowntownArena.org is voluntary political contributions from either union members or contractors to a state-regulated Political Action Committee. These PACs have detailed reporting requirements.
  2. If money comes from the general operating expenses of the union and/or the association, it means the people running the organizations simply made a decision to send some of their income or assets to DowntownArena.org. The right to do this under state election law is quite limited.
  3. If money comes from the NECA/IBEW Northern California Labor-Management Cooperation Committee (LMCC), it means the source of the money to DowntownArena.org is employer payments mandated in collective bargaining agreements that are sent by contractors to a trust fund authorized under the obscure federal Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978. These LMCCs are generally unregulated and have few reporting requirements. It’s easy to get this money – the employer payments are even incorporated into state prevailing wage rates.
  4. It’s even possible that the money came from another trust fund managed by NECA and IBEW and authorized under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

I suspect the donor of the $2500 is the NECA/IBEW Northern California Labor-Management Cooperation Committee (LMCC). But no one will know until February 2014, after DowntownArena.org submits its semi-annual report to the Fair Political Practices Committee. I’ll update this post at that time.