Judicial Watch vs. Goldwater Institute: Conservative Think Tanks Clash Over Taxpayer-Funded Police Union Work

Categories: Who's Suing Who

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A legal battle over whether Phoenix police union leaders should be able to perform union-related duties while collecting their taxpayer-funded salaries has pitted two uber-conservative groups -- Goldwater Institute and Judicial Watch -- against each other.

At the crux of the debate is Goldwater's contention that a municipal government paying union bosses to conduct union duties, which includes lobbying, representing employees in disciplinary hearings and negotiating employment contracts, violates the Arizona Constitution's gift clause.

Not so, says Judicial Watch, a D.C.-based conservative think tank.

Rather, Judicial Watch argues that the money used to cover the union leaders' salaries comes out of the police officer's total compensation package. That is, each cop gives up about $320 a year to fund those positions.

A couple of Phoenix residents (represented by Phoenix-based Goldwater) filed a lawsuit against the City of Phoenix in December 2011 to end that practice. And Goldwater is taken aback that its compadres at Judicial Watch aren't cheering from the sidelines.

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Instead, Judicial Watch announced this week that it asked Maricopa County Superior Court to allow five Phoenix police officers to intervene in a lawsuit challenging what is referred to as "release time" for those unions leaders.

Clint Bolick -- director of litigation at the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute -- noted in a blog that, in Phoenix, "release time provisions in contracts with its seven government worker unions cost taxpayers $4 million per year, according to a Goldwater Institute investigation released last year."

Bolick is critical of Judicial Watch for stepping in Goldwater's way when the D.C. think tank has spoken out against a similar practice in Florida.

"Judicial Watch condemned Miami-Dade County, Florida Mayor Carlos Alvarez for allowing 'public transit workers to be excused from their regular duties while still collecting taxpayer salaries.' " Bolick writes. "Among Judicial Watch's bill of particulars against the mayor was the '1,300 union police officers who make over $100,000 at the department Alvarez worked in and headed for years.' Outrageous, said Judicial Watch."

The reason for this drastic change of course, Bolick argues, appears to be Mark Spencer.

Remember him? The Phoenix cop who was president of the Phoenix Police Law Enforcement Association?

Spencer spent his days in the union hall, dealing with employee issues and pushing for local police to play a greater role in enforcing federal immigration laws all the while getting his regular cop salary.

Spencer retired from the department earlier this year, and now the far-right of center guy is the Southwest Project Coordinator for Judicial Watch.

Spencer contends that it isn't about him. Rather, it's about the principle of allowing cops the freedom to decide how to use the money allocated to them. And the situation in Florida?

It's completely different, he says.

In that 2011 scenario, the Florida mayor formed a "special 'education' committee" which excused public transit employees from their regular work day to campaign against a recall election he was facing.

Florida taxpayers had to shell out extra money to cover the campaigning employees' regular jobs. In Phoenix, however, the cops are already getting a certain pot of money, and they're choosing to take part of their paycheck to pay for union reps, Spencer tells New Times.

Bolick says he sees no difference.

He maintains that cops should be able to use their money to pay for that union representation -- once they get it in their paychecks, that is. The money shouldn't be funneled directly from the city to the union, which is a private, third-party entity, he says.

"These are people who were hired by the City of Phoenix for law enforcement. And, this is diverting police officers from the job they were assigned to do, taking them off the street and putting the officer under the control of the union," he says. "They should be riding a patrol car not a union desk."

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When is the Goldwater Institute going to go after the REAL anti-constitutional provision in the law - the huge subsidy to corporations and LLCs which is the "Limitation of Liability" clause in most States that charter these government created entities?  That's the biggest entitlement of all - the ability of an owner of a company to be liable only for the amount they invest in the business should their business do something stupid (like pollute the entire Gulf of Mexico).  We taxpayers are left holding the bag for their bad actions.  Make these business people RESPONSIBLE for their actions and holdings.  That's real capitalism, not this FAKE corporate capitalism these people "built" all by their little selves.  


Pro-union conservative, that's a stretch.  Must just be pro certain unions.


Wouldn't any private company with a contract with the city be in violation of the AZ Constitution, considering Goldwater Institutes vision?  Oh wait, that's right.  They are against public employees and all for privatization!


Who was the original author of this article, monica?  Is there going to be any "editing errors" in this story due to your "cut and paste" practices?


You're being awfully charitable referring to Judicial Watch as a Think Tank, considering that they are knee deep with the birthers and WorldNutjobDaily.


 @phxjustice Gift clause


Paying cops for union work does not benefit the city and constitutes a gift


Paying a business for goods or services contracted for is not a gift


The 'vision' is the Arizona Constitution.


 @marcyaz  @phxjustice

 Marcy - not sure you read the entire article.  Per the article, the money used to pay the Union rep is not City of Phoenix money. "In Phoenix, however, the cops are already ...choosing to take part of their paycheck to pay for union reps,"  The City of Phoenix makes a deduction from the officer's biweekly paycheck and uses a portion of those funds to pay the Union rep .  This is not government money going to pay offiers to do Union work, this is the officers' money going to pay other officers to do Union work. 


The issue for the Goldwater Institute is the way the money is collected.  The Goldwater Institute doesn't think that the City of Phoenix should be collecting the payroll deduction from offiers' paychecks and transferring those fundsto the Union or using it to pay Union reps.  Eliminating payroll deductions for union dues is a union busting tactic that conservatives, led by the Koch's brothers American Prosperity Foundaation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have been pressing for a number of years now.


This is not a gift clause issue - this is a union busting issue and the Goldwater Institute is engaged in a political operation, not a constitutional one.  That is who the Goldwater Institute is - unabashedly - and they are proud of it.

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