Air Line Pilot, March/April 2002

President's Forum: Campaign Finance Reform

If anything positive surfaces from what is being touted as Enrongate, it may be that the U.S. Congress will finally enact some form of campaign finance reform that would tighten major loopholes in current laws that allow organizations to pour millions of unrestricted dollars into political campaigns.

These political contributions are the so-called "soft money" that corporations, unions, and other organizations spend on issues and positions that do not go directly to a specific candidate. Congress has tried to pass such reform legislation several times in the past only to be blocked by powerful House and Senate legislators who never met a dollar they didn’t like and lobbyists whose interests are the status quo.

ALPA has publicly supported and continues to work for such reform as a means to achieve a semblance of balance between corporate campaign contributions and contributions from U.S. workers. U.S. corporations, in recent elections, outspent union-collected campaign contributions 15 to 1. Our competitors in this race are the airlines. In recent elections, airlines outspent airline workers in soft money spending 70 to 1.

So how does reforming campaign soft money work for us? The truth is that ALPA does not participate in soft money campaigns. And no ALPA dues go toward partisan political programs—even our AFL-CIO assessments have been earmarked for voter registration, get-out-the-vote campaigns, and other nonpartisan election purposes. We want to play the game with hard money, and we have told Congress that. The elimination of soft money campaign contributions will help neutralize massive airline political funds that often draw on corporate revenues. The airlines are still going to hit up their CEOs and corporate directors for PAC money, but we have a lot more members than they do managers. In a hard-dollar arena, we should be able to match dollar for dollar the contributions of airline management.

Although contributions that pilots sent to ALPA-PAC increased in 2001—in fact, to record levels—that higher dollar amount was achieved from a dwindling number of contributors. ALPA members who continue to support ALPA-PAC are those who lived through the early years of deregulation and the Continental, United, and Eastern strikes. These PAC participants remember all too well that the agenda of ALPA members is always at risk in the political arena—and that participation in ALPA-PAC can and does make a difference. Nearly all of them contribute through payroll deduction. They recognize that the U.S. President and Congress have a gigantic effect on the decisions that touch our profession. They understand that fixing a lot of things that are wrong will take political pressure. These PAC-participating pilots are now retiring; and as they leave, younger pilots are not stepping up to replace them.

And yet, in no other period in our history has the political threat to pilots and our profession been more real. The Canadian government recently proposed cabotage as a means to improve airline revenue. The McCain-Lott bill to circumvent airline collective bargaining is still haunting the halls of Congress. Pension law changes may soon surface. Don’t think for a minute that pension reform will favor employees. Corporations are the driving force behind this reform. These companies, whose pension funds were flush in recent years, no longer want to divert cash into worker retirement plans. Obtaining universal access, arming pilots, regaining our cockpit jumpseats, and all of the issues around airport and aircraft security are political in nature. None of these issues are pure—people who make these decisions are political appointees and respond to political pressure.

ALPA members generally want to take some positive action to make their work environment better. One of the easier ways is to send a donation to ALPA-PAC. For the past 27 years, ALPA-PAC has been a critical complement to ALPA’s lobbying program, being used for issues ranging from fringe benefits taxation to source taxation of retirement benefits, from TCAS II for cargo airplanes to small-airport certification, from federal funding for ALPA’s HIMS program to bankruptcy law reform. And the list goes on.

But the average 10 percent PAC participation rate for ALPA members is unacceptable. In fact, three pilot groups are carrying most of the load for the rest of ALPA. Delta, Northwest, and United pilots make up nearly two-thirds of our PAC participants while they are only 44 percent of ALPA’s active members. Those three pilot groups contributed 82 percent of our 2001 PAC dollars.

So why do I raise this issue in spring—so far from elections next November? The fact is that if we don’t get money flowing into ALPA-PAC this spring and early summer, we will not be able to maximize our political clout.

s/Duane E. Woerth