Senate President Sweeney’s conflict of interest?

Dear Ms. Hochman:

I am writing to you with a question:  Can Senate President Steve Sweeney collect payments from a labor union for “political activities and lobbying”, while a member of the Legislature?  It would appear to me to be an existential conflict of interest, but you are the expert.


Here is a synopsis of the situation.


As Senate President, Steve Sweeney is paid $49,000 per year, plus an “allowance equal to 1/3 his compensation” ($16,333) for a total of $65,333.


Steve Sweeney is also an official with the Iron Workers union.  As a general organizer paid through the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union, AFL-CIO, Sweeney received a base salary of $165,264 in 2012.  In addition to his base salary, Sweeney also received compensation in the form of allowances and disbursements for expenses. His total compensation through the International in 2012 was $206,092.


In addition, Sweeney received allowances of $21,351 as President of Iron Workers District Council of Philadelphia and Vicinity. In 2012, Sweeney’s total compensation through the Iron Workers was $227,443.


The Department of Labor requires public disclosure by labor unions of how union dues are spent.  These disclosures list union employees, their salaries and allowances.  The disclosure also includes the allocation of time by union officers and employees estimating the amount of time spent on various activities such as organizing or administration.  One of the purposes of this disclosure is to show how much the union has spent on its core activities: collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment.  Non-members working in a union environment are obligated to pay dues, but only to support these core activities.


According to disclosure filings by the International, Sweeney spends a considerable amount of his time as a union official on activities described as “Political Activities and Lobbying.” (LM-2, Schedule 12, Disbursements to Employees, Line I, Schedule 16)

What political activities did he engage in and on behalf of which candidates and causes? The explanation offered as part of the disclosure describes political activity as “to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of anyone to a Federal, state, or local executive, legislative or judicial public office, or office in a political organization, or the election of Presidential or Vice Presidential electors, and support for or opposition to ballot referenda.” (Instructions for Form LM-2 Labor Organization Annual Report, page 27)

Lobbying is described as “associated with dealing with the executive and legislative branches of the Federal, state, and local governments and with independent agencies and staffs to advance the passage or defeat of existing or potential laws or the promulgation or any other action with respect to rules or regulations (including litigation expenses).” 

Senator Sweeney is not registered as a lobbyist with the United States Senate or House of Representatives.  He is not a registered lobbyist in Pennsylvania.  The union that pays Sweeney’s salary does not use outside lobbyists.  Instead, it uses an employee as its primary lobbyist – registered with both the House and Senate.  It is interesting to note that the primary lobbyist in Washington allocates only 50% of his time to political activity and lobbying.

New Jersey state law does not appear to allow legislators to simultaneously serve as lobbyists. 

 

Questions concerning Senator Sweeney’s political activity and lobbying for the Iron Workers union become a more serious matter when the amount of time allocated to these activities is noted.  Calculating the value of that allocation as a portion of Sweeney’s compensation adds further emphasis.

  

Sweeney spent 30% of his union effort in 2012 on political activity and lobbying.  In 2011 and 2010, the amount was 38%.  In 2009, the amount was 34%.  There is no indication of the actual amount of time Sweeney devoted to these activities, only the proportion of the whole. 

  

Placing dollar amounts on Sweeney’s activity helps put matters into an easily understandable form.  In 2012, Sweeney’s gross pay was $165,264, and his total compensation was $227,443.  In simple terms, Sweeney was paid $49,579 of his gross, or $68,233 of his total compensation, to engage in political activity and lobbying for the union.  In 2011, Sweeney was paid $62,141 of his total compensation for political activity and lobbying.  In 2010, $58,377, and in 2009, $56,669. 

  

Sweeney’s Union Compensation 

  

Year          % time allocated 

                 political activities             gross salary         lobbying salary           gross compensation    lobbying portion of total 

2012    30%                 $165,264         $49,579           $227,443         $68,233           1 

2011    38%                 $169,068         $50,720           $207,138         $62,141           2 

2010    38%                 $157,755         $47,327           $194,593         $58,378           3 

2009    34%                 $151,443         $45,433           $188,898         $56,669           4

 

Note 1     Steve Sweeney utilized the automobile provided by the District Council for personal use. The business use was greater than 50%. In accordance with Form LM-3 instructions the entire auto expense is included in column (E). The determined personal use is taxed as compensation and included on the officer’s W-2 / 1099. Auto Expense $2,798 Auto Insurance 1,966 Auto Loan Payments 16,187 Total $20,951

 

Note 2      Steve Sweeney utilized the automobile provided by the District Council for personal use. The business use was greater than 50%. In accordance with Form LM-3 instructions the entire auto expense is included in column (E). The determined personal use is taxed as compensation and included on the officer’s W-2 / 1099. Auto Expense $2,586 Auto Insurance 1,937 Auto Loan Payments 19,439 Total $23,962

 

Note 3     Steve Sweeney utilized the automobile provided by the District Council for personal use. The business use was greater than 50%. In accordance with Form LM-3 instructions the entire auto expense is included in column (E). The determined personal use is taxed as compensation and included on the officer’s W-2 / 1099.  Auto Expense $6,462  Auto Insurance 2,168 Auto Loan Payments 3,240 Total $11,870

 

Note 4     Steve Sweeney utilized the automobile provided by the District Council for personal use. The business use was greater than 50%. In accordance with Form LM-3 instructions the entire auto expense is included in column (E). The determined personal use is taxed as compensation and included on the officer’s W-2 / 1099.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

 

Sincerely,

 

Dr. Murray Sabrin

Senate President Sweeney’s conflict of interest?