An Interview With Linda Chavez
John Hawkins:: You know, I realized unions had a lot of power and influence in the Democratic party, but while reading an excerpt of your book, I ran across a statement that I found to be amazing. Let me read it, then I’d like to get your comment on it. “As the FEC’s final report put it, the unions had ‘authority to approve or disapprove plans, projects, and needs of the DNC and its state parties.'” So the unions essentially have veto power over DNC decisions?
Linda Chavez:: That is exactly right. That was a power extended to them in 1996 when Bill Clinton was in office. It was a calculated maneuver on the part of the Democrats. They know that without the union’s money and manpower it is very difficult for them to be able to compete and therefore they’re willing to kowtow to the unions in order to be able to get that union cash and to make sure that all of those so-called “volunteers” who are really paid workers are there to work during campaigns.
John Hawkins:: Another thing I learned from reading an excerpt of your book was that union dues are tax free. They don’t pay any taxes at all?
Linda Chavez:: That’s right. To the tune of 17 billion dollars each year, unions collect dues from their members and pay no taxes on it. Now, that’s true of all non-profits. But, the difference is, if you’re a non-profit like the Chamber of Commerce or the National Association of Manufacturers and you spend money on politics, you do have to pay taxes on those dollars. In fact, those organizations pay millions of dollars each year in taxes.
But, the NEA for example, one of the most powerful unions, the most active unions in the country, lists as zero the spending that they do on politics when they fill out their tax forms. Of course, they tell a very different story when they are out there talking to the press about how powerful they are. They spend about 90 million dollars a year between the state and the national organizations funding what they call UniServe, which is a cadre of 1800 union operatives located in every congressional district in the country. It’s the biggest group of political organizers, bigger than both the Democratic & Republican parties combined, and by law they should have to pay taxes on that portion of the money that they spend on this political activity, but they don’t. There’s a current complaint that has been filed with the Internal Revenue Service, but the IRS, by law, is not allowed to say whether they’re investigating or not. But, the NEA is typical. All of the unions do this and none of them pay taxes on their political activity.
John Hawkins:: Do you think that what the unions do, in effect forcing workers to support the Democratic party with their dues to keep their jobs, do you think that’s moral?
Linda Chavez:: It’s not only immoral, it ought to be illegal. We ought not to be forcing people to have money spent supporting political ideologies that they oppose. One thing most people are not aware of is that traditionally 40% of union households actually vote Republican. But, when you look at the way in which unions spend not just their voluntary contributions, but union dues, it is overwhelmingly, more than 95% of it, going to support Democratic candidates. And I think it’s wrong, it’s like slave labor. You’re basically stealing money from people and forcing them to work for something that they do not support.
John Hawkins:: Now, I understand that the Democrats would try to support the unions that are beneficial to them politically, but why haven’t we heard more from the GOP on this? Why aren’t they trying to do more to level the playing field with these unions? Why haven’t they tried to make them pay taxes? Why haven’t they stepped up to do that sort of thing?
Linda Chavez:: Well, hopefully the IRS is investigating these complaints now. As I say, Congress passed laws saying that the IRS can’t divulge who they’re investigating. We do know that a few years ago the IRS cracked down pretty hard on Christian Coalition, revoked their tax exempt status. One would hope that the NEA that has been spending many, many, more millions of dollars than the Christian Coalition ever envisioned spending is going to get similar treatment, but we don’t know what the outcome of that is going to be yet.
And they have done some things. The Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao has tried to pass regulations which would open up the union’s books so that people would have some better idea of how the unions spend their money. But, the AFL-CIO went into court, they were slapped with a restraint order, so those regulations cannot take effect until after this year’s elections. But, even if the President, Elaine Chao, and others wanted to do more, Congress would and could step in, and because Democrats in Congress, and a handful of Republicans as well, are in the hip pockets of the labor movement, it is very difficult to get legislation passed that treats unions like other organizations are treated.
John Hawkins:: Now let me ask you sort of a related question: when you were put up for Labor Secretary, do you think you got a bum rap? A lot of people, myself included, feel you just took somebody into your home who was in trouble, tried to help them out, and they turned that into a negative (Note: Linda Chavez at one point took a Guatemalan illegal immigrant into her home and after it hit the press, withdrew her nomination as labor secretary)…
Linda Chavez:: Well, I do think that I did not break any laws. It was very clear from the moment my name surfaced that the AFL-CIO was adamant about keeping me out. And, I don’t think it’s an accident that the woman who actually employed the Guatemalan woman who was living in my home was herself a Democratic fundraiser and a very activist Democrat. I’m convinced it happened for a reason. I’m not Secretary of Labor, but I’m out writing this book and in some ways I think I have an even bigger voice because I can not be restrained by politics and can go out and speak the truth without worrying about endangering the President’s message or anything else.
John Hawkins:: When you say “I don’t think it’s an accident,” do you mean that you think she put the word out or that she tried to set this up?
Linda Chavez:: Oh, well she did put the word out. Her brother is Terry Moran, the White House correspondent and ABC broke the story. Yes, she was very much out there spreading the story and I do think this was at a time when President Bush had all of his cabinet to get confirmed and John Ashcroft was getting a lot of heat. In some ways, I think the fact that I stepped aside gave the Democrats the sacrificial lamb they wanted and it probably eased the way a bit for John Ashcroft to become the Attorney General.
John Hawkins:: I’m sure that’s the case. Changing tacks just a bit, you believe that Affirmative Action is moral? Also, do you think it’s a breach of the equal protection clause of the Constitution?
Linda Chavez: Well, it depends on what you mean by Affirmative Action. If you mean old fashioned Affirmative Action which was basically making sure that you cast a wider net, aggressive recruitment of people who might not know the opportunity was available, provide training programs so people can compete on their own — I’m all in favor of that kind of Affirmative Action.
Unfortunately, since the early 1970s, Affirmative Action has come to mean something very different. It really is a program of racial spoils, a program in which preferences are given based on the color of one’s skin. And, I believe it’s illegal, I believe it’s unconstitutional, the Supreme Court coverage of the Michigan University case last summer not withstanding, and I certainly believe that it’s wrong and immoral.
John Hawkins:: I agree with you. In your opinion, are we doing an adequate job of assimilating immigrants into our society? If not, what do you think we need to do differently?
Linda Chavez:: No, I don’t think we’re doing enough and I think the problem is twofold. First of all, we have a lot of immigrants to assimilate and that makes the task much more difficult. We also have a lot of immigrants coming to the United States coming from a single language group which makes it a little more difficult to encourage them to learn English.
But, the biggest problem isn’t so much the immigrants, as it is the fact that our educational system has abandoned the notion that there is any such thing as American culture, that we ought to be teaching American history and American civics to all our students. But, we should especially be teaching new immigrants who will have no other way of acquiring that (knowledge). And, we’ve basically created a system where our schools in many parts of the country encourage students to retain their native language and they teach them in that native language rather than helping them learn English. So that’s the biggest impediment and I think even if we didn’t have any immigrants coming into the United States today, multiculturalism and the abandonment of teaching American history & civics has been a tremendous tragedy for this country. I predict that if we don’t change course and reinstitute the teaching of history, pride in our country, and patriotism, we have a rough road ahead of us.
John Hawkins:: Absolutely. Air America seems to be really struggling right now. In your opinion, and you’re a radio host so you should know, where do you think they went wrong?
Linda Chavez:: Well, I think they’ve had a very tough battle that they’ve set for themselves. For one thing, Al Franken who was the funny man on Saturday Night Live has decided to take himself all too seriously. He wants to pretend to be a policy wonk and be an expert on foreign policy, etc, & the man’s expertise is in comedy. If he lightened up a bit and quit trying to be so ideological and if he was a little more interested in entertainment, he might actually be able to get an audience.
I actually was on, as he calls it, “The O’Franken Factor,” and I found him to be very dour, pompous, and not very entertaining. Frankly, he wasn’t a very good interviewer.
John Hawkins:: That sounds about right for Al Franken.
Linda Chavez:: (Laughs)
John Hawkins:: Do you support the Federal Marriage Amendment? Can you explain your position on that?
Linda Chavez:: Yes, I certainly do. I think that the two parent family with a mother and father taking care of children is the basis of all human society. It is the best way to raise children and I think the whole reason that government gets involved in marriage in the first place is without the two parent family, we really do not have the building blocks of a civil society. So, I think it’s absolutely imperative to reinforce that children are better off being raised by a mother and father and that marriage as an institution is one that involves one man and one woman.
Once we begin to break down the barriers and decide to allow marriage to apply to people of the same sex, what is to prohibit us from deciding that two people is the magic number that can be involved. Why shouldn’t we extend it to 3? Why shouldn’t we extend it to 4? Why should we have prohibitions against all sorts of other unions involving minors or involving people who are related by blood, all of those sorts of taboos that go back to the dawn of civilization? I think (those taboos) will begin to erode if we abandon the idea that marriage is the institution of one man and one woman and it is for the purpose of caring for children, which is of course the most important role that families play in our society.
John Hawkins:: Do you think that unless we get a constitutional amendment that the courts will end up imposing gay marriage on America?
Linda Chavez:: I don’t think that there’s any question but that you’ll see that at the lower court level and frankly, I fear that given recent Supreme Court decisions they will look at this as a privacy issue and they may very well extend the 14th Amendment protections to include the right of homosexuals to marry.
John Hawkins:: One of the things I always find fascinating is liberals who become conservatives, which is something that happened to you. Can you tell us a little bit about what caused you to move to the right?
Linda Chavez:: Well, it was a process that goes back many years. Even though I was a liberal on economic issues, I do not think I was ever a liberal on foreign policy issues. I was someone who happened to have supported the war in Vietnam. Even though I was at the time, a member of the Young People’s Socialist League…
John Hawkins:: I cannot imagine you in a “Socialist’s League” somehow…
Linda Chavez:: (Laughs) Well, a lot of us ended up being Reaganites later in life. The prime mission of the Young People’s Socialist League was opposition to Communism. So these were very sectarian political battles on the left. I think we were very wrongheaded on economic policy and it took me getting out of the work force, actually earning a living, and seeing how the economy actually worked instead of how looked in a text book to change my views on economic issues. But, I was always a staunch anti-Communist and frankly it was Ronald Reagan’s decision to stand up to the Soviet Union and to promise rebuild our defenses (that made the difference for me). I thought Jimmy Carter’s presidency brought us perilously close to war frankly. If you looked at a map of the world under Jimmy Carter’s tenure, it was a time of tremendous movement on the part of the Communists to take over parts of Latin America, parts of Africa, parts of Asia and so that was my reason for supporting Ronald Reagan. That began my move to the right.
Of course, I was always opposed to racial preferences even when I considered myself a liberal, so I was very attracted to President Reagan’s position on racial quotas and that’s how I ended up going into his administration. And as I say, it was really earning a living, paying taxes, and seeing that government was terribly inefficient and not the way to organize society that changed my views. We didn’t want government running things that the private sector was much more efficient at doing. Frankly, reading a book from the 18th century, Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations,” that really taught me everything I know about economics.
John Hawkins:: Can you tell us a little bit about your new book, “Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics“?
Linda Chavez:: Well, “Betrayal” will tell you stories that you won’t read in Bill Clinton’s memoir. It’ll tell you how Bill Clinton’s job was saved by the head of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney, who basically nixed a plan to have Democrats go and ask Bill Clinton to step aside after the Lewinsky scandal broke. It’ll also tell you about Bill Clinton’s ties to a mob run union, and a mob run President of that union, and how he took almost 5 million dollars from that union over the course of the first four years in office. There are lots of stories in there that I somehow think will be missing in Bill Clinton’s book. So, if you want to know the real story of Bill Clinton’s Presidency, you have to read “Betrayal”.
John Hawkins:: Are there any blogs or websites you could recommend for our readers?
Linda Chavez:: I have my own website where you can actually listen to portions of the book on tape or you can read portions of it. It’s called: LindaChavez.org. It links to my various organizations including: Stop Union Political Abuse, includingThe Center for Equal Opportunity, and one of the Political Action Committees that I run,: RIC Pac. So, you can get lots of information on that site.
John Hawkins:: Is there anything else you’d like to say or promote before we finish up?
Linda Chavez:: No, you seem to have covered the whole gamut.
John Hawkins:: I really appreciate your time. Thank you.
Linda Chavez:: Thanks so much.