Outside Employment at the Legislature: Putting things in Perspective

The New Jersey Herald has been making an issue over Republican Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose doing a full-time job for Franklin Township, while handling her responsibilities as an elected member of the Legislature.   In fact, the Legislature is a part-time job and most legislators hold some other form of full-time employment.

Recently, two of McHose's Democrat colleagues were hired.  Democrat Assemblyman John Burzichelli got a $100,000-a-year job at the Gloucester County Improvement Authority, while Democrat Assemblywoman Linda Stender picked up a $90,000-per-year position at the Union County Improvement Authority.  For Burzichelli, who also owns a full-time business, it's his third job.  And unlike Republican McHose, Democrats Burzichelli and Stender intend to keep both jobs.  Read the NJ.com stories here for yourself:



One Democrat whose outside employment does interfere with his job as a legislator is Senate President Steve Sweeney.  For several years Sweeney, who controls every piece of legislation that comes to the Senate for a vote, has been paid by his union for lobbying activities.  Sweeney is paid about $200,000 a year by the union, in addition to his $65,000 salary as senator and senate president.

This came to light from an examination of mandatory filings his union has made with the United States Labor Department. 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).

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.

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 matter into an easily understandable form.  In 2012, Sweeney’s gross pay was $165,264, and his total compensation was $227,442.  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.

For readers of the Herald, the question becomes why is this story not being placed in the context of what other legislators are doing?