Friday, April 11, 2014

Michigan Disability Advocates and Campaign Finance Shenanigans

An article in the Detroit News from March 10, 2014, "Mich.slaps health care union with 2nd largest elections fine ever", by Chad Livengood, covers campaign financing law violations by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) during a campaign to support a ballot proposal in the November 2012 election. The headline does not convey a surprising fact: Michigan disability advocates were involved as the treasurers of the campaign fundraising committees that were investigated and called to account for their handling of campaign funds and failures to meet reporting requirements in the law. The body of the article goes into some detail about Proposal 4, which was defeated in the election, and the campaign committees 
supporting it.

The article summarizes the actions by the Michigan Secretary of State:

"Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office slapped the labor union with a $199,000 fine for multiple campaign finance violations after it used a nonprofit corporation to funnel $9.36 million in contributions into a ballot campaign seeking the passage of Proposal 4 in 2012. The fine is the second largest in Michigan elections history...

"The ballot campaign, Citizens for Affordable Quality Home Care, received nearly all of its funding from a single company called Home Care First Inc., which received its funding from SEIU and Michigan-based affiliates, according to a Bureau of Elections investigation.

"Home Care First Inc. 'belatedly' set up a ballot committee that reported after the November 2012 election that all of its money came from SEIU and its affiliates, an investigative report states.

"The state found SEIU and campaign treasurers for the two committees violated the Michigan Campaign Finance Act for 49 transactions of commingling funds in multiple bank accounts, 31 contributions involving incomplete or inaccurate campaign statements and three late contribution reports."

Dohn Hoyle, the Executive Director of The ARC Michigan, a state advocacy organization for people with developmental disabilities, was the treasurer of the Citizens for Affordable Quality Home Care (CAQHC). Norman G. DeLisle, Jr., who has been the Executive Director of the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition (MDRC) since 1997, was the treasurer of Home Care First Incorporated (HCFI). 

The campaign committees were both formed in March 2012. CAQHC received donations funneled through HCFI without disclosing that the HCFI funds came entirely from SEIU-affiliated organizations. HCFI did not file all required forms with the state until just before the 2012 election and did not reveal the source of its funding until after the election. 

Hoyle, DeLisle, and the SEIU did not admit guilt and no criminal charges were filed as a result of the investigation. Instead,  a conciliation agreement was reached with the Secretary of State's Office with regard to the complaint, D'Assandro v Home Care First, Inc and Citizens for Affordable Quality Home Care and the $199,000 fine was levied by the Secretary of State. The SEIU and the disability advocates admitted that "mistakes were made" and claimed that they had not fully understood the campaign financing law. This is surprising, since presumably both the SEIU and the committee campaign treasurers had access to attorneys to advise them when they set up the campaign committees. 

Filling in the blanks: Why were disability advocates involved in a ballot proposal campaign?

Proposal 4, a statewide ballot proposal that was defeated in the November 2012 election, was meant to amend the Michigan constitution to continue to allow union representation and collective bargaining rights for Medicaid-funded Home Help Workers and to reinstate the Michigan Quality Community Care Council, which had been defunded by the legislature, and rename it as the Michigan Home Quality Care Council. The Council would continue to be made up mostly of advocates for people with disabilities and seniors and would act as the representative for employers of Home Help Workers for the purposes of collective bargaining with the state. The employers of home help workers are the seniors and people with disabilities who receive Medicaid funding to pay for help with household chores and personal care in their own homes. The Council would also have maintained a registry of workers who had passed background checks and would offer training to improve job skills. 

Other relevant facts:

The financial stake in the pro-Proposal 4 campaign was significant: The SEIU collected about $6 million per year in dues and fees from Home Help Workers and, prior to being defunded, the Council received about $1.1 million per year from the state. 

Many factors make Home Help Workers a difficult and unusual population to unionize:
  • About 75% of the Home Help Workers in Michigan are family members or close friends of the seniors and people with disabilities who hire them. Often the employee is the parent or another family member. Even more complicated is the fact that the employee may also be the legal guardian of the employer, the senior or disabled person. 
  • In 2005, when the election for unionization of Home Help Workers was held, only about 20% of those employed voted. There was confusion, especially among family members, about whether unionization applied to them at all, because many of them did not consider themselves "employees".
  • Because the work takes place in the employers home, it is difficult to assess or regulate working conditions.
  • The union was limited in how much it could bargain for increased wages because of  appropriations decisions made by the legislature.
It does not appear that seniors and people with disabilities had any say in who represented them in the collective bargaining process. 

The Home Help program has been around since the 1980's and its continued existence was not threatened by either the passage or defeat of Proposal 4.

Advocacy for whom?

The financial entanglements of the disability advocates with the SEIU during the proposal 4 campaign seems to be a conflict of interest with the advocates' representation of people with disabilities and seniors.

When advocates and their organizations claim to represent people with disabilities, they need to maintain their independence and avoid conflicts of interest. In this convoluted campaign to amend Michigan's constitution, advocates allied themselves with a labor union while simultaneously seeking to continue to represent seniors and people with disabilities in collective bargaining with the union. The participation  of disability advocates in campaign shenanigans of this magnitude certainly did not enhance the lives of people with disabilities nor did it protect the reputations of their organizations.

More information:

Michigan Secretary of State press release on the finance campaign investigation.

For more information on Proposal 4, see The DD News Blog.

To see documents relating to the complaint investigation, link here to the Secretary of State's website. Then scroll down to 8/30/2013, D'Assandro v Home Care … and link to documents in the right hand column, parts 1 - 12.

More news coverage on the campaign finance violations from Mlive and the Detroit Free Press


P.S. - Irony Alert!

During the campaign for Proposal 4, a report from MIRS Capitol Capsule for April 10, 2012, quoted Mr. Hoyle as he complained about the the Governor signing a bill to reverse the ability of home help workers to unionize as state employees and the defunding of the MQCCC:

" Hoyle said he doesn’t understand people who have not talked with or dealt with MQCCC but are 'so bent on changing things without regard for what it does to people.'

"'To me it is just an ideological problem when people get so bent in one direction and ignore people who are on the other end of it, those with disabilities and those who are older,' he said. 'That’s just sad in my mind.'"

Many families will appreciate the irony of Mr. Hoyle's complaints, considering his own ideological bent and the adverse effects it has on people with disabilities. See "The ARC Michigan to state: Stop funding congregate settings" and "The ARC Michigan: Our way or the highway

No comments: