A federal overseer on Monday effectively ended the career of Teamsters President Ron Carey, ruling that the most effective reformer in the union’s troubled history had taken part in illegal schemes to pump union money into his 1996 re-election effort.
The ruling, which bars Carey from running for re-election, leaves challenger James P. Hoffa the only name on the ballot and union reformers scrambling to find someone to oppose him in an election rerun in March.
Carey, at a press conference, blamed unnamed “enemies of reform” for his undoing. “While I intend to fight this with everything that I have,” he said “reform of the Teamsters never has depended upon one man.”
Also threatened are several other leaders of the AFL-CIO’s reform wing, who are alleged to have made illegal contributions - some in cash - to the Teamsters leader’s campaign.
Former federal Judge Kenneth Conboy, named to weigh the case against Carey as part of government efforts to clean up the 1.4 million-member Teamsters union, flatly rejected Carey’s recent claims of ignorance to illicit fund raising on his behalf.
Instead, backed by statements from Carey’s campaign manager, the Teamsters’ political director, and Carey’s personal secretary, Conboy concluded that the leader considered the Teamsters’ foremost reformer had “tolerated and engaged in” elaborate schemes to help his flagging campaign against Hoffa.
The most fruitful ones, according to Conboy, occurred last fall when Carey approved International Brotherhood of Teamsters contributions totaling $735,000 to a cluster of liberal nonprofit groups. Their biggest contributors, in return, gave at least $227,500 to Carey’s campaign organization, named “Teamsters for a Corruption Free Union.”
Other schemes involved contributions, direct and indirect, from labor leaders barred from giving in Teamster campaigns. They included, according to Conboy, Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, and Paul Booth, a senior official of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Booth claims to have received at least $20,000 in cash from another powerful labor figure, Gerald McEntee, international president of the AFSCME, according to Conboy’s report. Trumka and McEntee, when questioned by Conboy, invoked the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination. Both men, and Carey, are among AFL-CIO President John Sweeney’s most important supporters in the labor movement.
“Mr. Carey’s participation in the expenditure of union monies in order to support his personal campaign constituted classic self-dealing,” Conboy ruled, and soliciting money from other top union leaders upended federal rules intended to “protect the integrity of the electoral process.”
The labor movement will be hurt by Carey’s ouster, several experts predicted. “Carey was the leader of a vigorous reform movement within the Teamsters and now that’s been decapitated,” said University of Virginia labor historian Nelson Liechtenstein. “It doesn’t mean that it’s dead, but it’s a setback.”
“This also doesn’t bode well for the allegations of impropriety” against other labor leaders,” added Mark Wilson, a labor policy fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank. Carey, McEntee and Trumka have been among the strongest supporters of the reform movement lead by the AFL-CIO’s Sweeney.
Hoffa, experts said, won’t necessarily coast to victory or bring back the dark days of his father’s corrupt reign as Teamsters president. “They won’t return to the same kind of really obvious mob corruption,” ventured Lichtenstein, “but he certainly won’t have the sense of a social, progressive movement that Carey had. Hoffa just hasn’t been educated to do that.”
Hoffa’s first comment Monday was a call for Carey’s immediate ouster. “There’s no reason that he should be drawing $150,000 of dues money,” said Hoffa.
Carey had been a hero to labor reformers since 1991 when he won the first rank-and-file election for Teamsters president. He placed 75 allegedly corrupt locals in trusteeship, stripped his office of perks including an executive jet, and led 180,000 workers through a successful strike against United Parcel Service last summer.
Carey beat Hoffa by less than 4 percentage points in balloting last December. In August, his election was set aside after Conboy’s predecessor ruled that three Carey re-election campaign officials had sought illegal contributions as Carey’s once-strong lead over Hoffa dwindled in the summer of 1996.
The three, re-election campaign manager Jere Nash, direct-mail broker Martin Davis and telemarketer Paul Ansara, pleaded guilty to related felonies and cooperated with investigators to build the case against Carey.
Unresolved by Conboy was the most explosive allegation made by former Carey campaign officials: that they’d made a deal with the Democratic National Committee to trade Teamster contributions to the party for DNC help raising money for Carey.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., who recently conducted hearings into the flawed Teamsters election, said Conboy’s ruling proved Republicans were on the right track. “Rank-and-file Teamsters are totally disconnected from the leadership in Washington,” Hoekstra said in a telephone interview. “They are embarrassed by the union leadership.”
Carey’s fall is likely to prove expensive to the Democratic Party. Under him, the Teamsters had contributed millions, while his predecessors had staunchly supported Republicans.