Politics

After a challenge to a Kentucky campaign finance law, unions are no longer allowed to make contributions to political action committees and candidates.

The change comes amid the ongoing fight over so-called “right-to-work” policies. Until last week, unions (usually anti-right-to-work) were allowed to make donations to candidates.

A Florida-based group called “Protect My Check” — a right-to-work supporter — sued the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission over a state law that forbids corporations from making political donations.

While corporations are still forbidden from making political donations, unions will no longer be able to.

Jim Manley, an attorney with the libertarian-leaning Goldwater Institute who argued the case, said that the new rule helps “level the playing field.”

“It’s absurd to think that unions can contribute $1,000 to a candidate and there’s no threat of corruption, but then a single dollar from a corporation is going to destroy public confidence in democracy,” Manley said.

In March, a court ruled that the equal protection clause of the constitution precluded Kentucky’s campaign finance law from forbidding corporate donations while permitting union donations.

The new policy will affect state and local candidates, but not candidates for federal office.

Bill Londrigan, president of Kentucky’s AFL-CIO, said that unions and corporations shouldn’t be treated with the same rules.

“We’re not the same,” Londrigan said. “Their ability to raise money is a whole lot greater than ours. We can only take money that is voluntarily contributed by union members.”

The lawsuit came as union groups and conservative activists have battled over whether to implement right-to-work policies, which would allow workers to work at a unionized company without having to join a union.

The policy was a major plank of Gov. Matt Bevin’s campaign last year, though the issue didn’t come up during this year’s legislative session.

Several counties in Kentucky passed local right-to-work ordinances in late 2014 and early 2015. A group of unions successfully challenged Hardin County for implementing the policy, with a federal court ruling that it violated federal labor laws.

The case has been appealed to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Protect My Check promised to pay the legal bills for counties who had to defend the laws.

Correction: When this story was first published, we incorrectly stated that corporations can now donate to Political Action Committees. That was incorrect. Corporations are still forbidden from making political donations. The are allowed to pay administrative or operating costs of PACs. This story has been updated. 

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.