It’s Time To Close the Union Loophole

Printed from:

Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments challenging the constitutionality of the union loophole in Massachusetts.

The case, 1A Auto v. Sullivan, stems from a lawsuit originally filed by two businesses, one owned by Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance founder Rick Green, and the other owned by a member of the MassFiscal board of directors, Mike Kane. 

If you’re familiar with Massachusetts campaign finance laws, you know why they filed the suit. Our state’s campaign finance laws are heavily biased against employers, and the union loophole is an egregious example. It allows unions, including those from as far away as California and Hawaii, to contribute up to $15,000 to a single candidate in Massachusetts local elections.

In contrast, individual residents of Massachusetts can donate a maximum of only $1,000, and businesses are locked out from contributing all together. Additionally, unions are allowed to contribute indirectly to help campaigns through third-party political actions committees, while employers are prohibited from this activity. Massachusetts is one of only six states in the country that give this type of advantage to unions, and of those six it’s the most lopsided in its favoring of unions.

Yet that has not always been the case. While the legislature enacted its ban on business contributions to political campaigns in 1908, the union loophole was once modest. Then in 1988, the maximum contribution from a union zoomed up to $15,000. And it happened without an act of the legislature, coming about instead through a reinterpretation of existing laws by unelected bureaucrats.

However we arrived at this point, one thing is clear:  it’s time to bring equity back to our state’s campaign finance laws. This suit presents the perfect vehicle to make it happen. Unions and employers are two sides of the same coin, after all. Without businesses, unions cannot exist. They sit across from each other at the bargaining table, and jointly represent two of the pillars essential to the capitalist economic system that has allowed our country to prosper.

The status quo campaign finance law in Massachusetts is inherently unfair to employers and removes an important voice from our state’s political process. Political differences are no reason to give such an outsized advantage to one side of a political debate, while preventing the other from participating altogether. Our state’s highest court should issue a ruling that finally brings equity back to our local political process.


Paul F. Gangi is program director of Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.