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Nancy Smith

Teamsters' Short Memory Makes Complaint Laughable

September 18, 2011 - 6:00pm

The Teamsters of all people are accusing Rick Scott of having a conflict of interest in Florida's prison privatizaton.

The Teamsters, can you believe it? These guys kill me.

These are the boys who want to take over representation of prison correctional workers in Florida themselves. They don't want any competition. So they file a complaint with the state Commission on Ethics, saying the privatization effort is a big fiddle.

You think the Teamsters give a broken kneecap about ethics?

Seems the governor accepted money from the nation's two largest private prison companies, Boca Raton-based GEO Group and Nashville-based Corrections Corp. of America.

Not for his election campaign, mind you. For his inauguration the inauguration that didn't burden Florida taxpayers one thin dime but was paid entirely by private donations. As Scott spokesman Lane Wright told the media last week, "There's no ethics violation here. Between 200 and 300 companies and individuals donated to the inauguration fund and the money went to the Republican Party of Florida, in total compliance with the law, not to Governor Scott directly."

The prison contract, Scott said, will go to go to the lowest bidder, whoever that is, and Scott will not be involved.

GEO contributed $25,000 and CCA donated $5,000 to Scott's inaugural fund. Oh, dear, that's "tantamount to pay-to-play politics," the complaint alleges.

Well, the Teamsters ought to know. Here we have the original run-with-the-hare-and-hunt-with-the-hounds boys. If anybody in American society knows how to peddle influence, it's Jimmy Hoffa's crowd.

Hoffa's Teamsters Union is one of the largest labor unions in the world. What's more, it's the 11th largest campaign contributor in the United States. While the Teamsters supported Republicans Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush for president in the 1980s, they have begun leaning largely toward the Democrats in recent years, donating 92 percent of their $24,418,589 in contributions since 1990 to the left side of the political spectrum.

Have a look at the Teamsters' top campaign gifts so far this year -- remembering that not shown is Florida Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, penciled in for $10,000, Ted Deutch for $5,000 and Alcee Hastings for $2,500. Eighty-four senators and congressmen shared the big Teamsters pie:

Top Teamsters Union Recipients, 2011-2012

Candidate Amount
Casey, Bob (D-PA) "" $10,500
Conyers, John Jr (D-MI) "" $10,000
Donnelly, Joe (D-IN) "" $10,000
Gonzalez, Charlie A (D-TX) "" $10,000
Hahn, Janice (D-CA) "" $10,000

It's laughable that Scott would sell out for a few influence dollars when he spent $75 million of his own money to get elected. And he campaigned for governor on privatization. Why should it be any surprise to see him go in that direction now that he has the job?

It's a well-told tale: Organized labor has been in a free-fall for the past three decades, with 24 percent of workers counting themselves as union members in 1973, but only about 12 percent saying the same three years ago, according to federal data compiled by Barry Hirsch, a professor at Georgia State University.

The Teamsters, sadly, are a little like an old wooden ventriloquist's doll. It's change that tells them what to say and do these days. Watching its membership rolls drop off, this union has no choice but to take on nontraditional battles to aggressively court state service workers.

Its ethics complaint is a joke.

This is an opinion column by Nancy Smith. Reach Nancy at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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