WASHINGTON -- The chief lobbyist for the Kansas Chamber of Commerce told state legislators Wednesday that he wants to see them pass a bill to end automatic paycheck deductions for public employee unions' political activities as a means to ending such unions.
Eric Stafford, the senior legislative affairs director for the Chamber, told members of the state House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee Wednesday afternoon that the bill would end public employee unions in the state, according to Twitter accounts of the committee hearing. Stafford's comment reportedly came in response to a series of questions from Democratic committee members during a hearing on the bill.
The legislation would prohibit public employee unions from having deductions taken automatically from their paychecks in order to fund union political activities, as well as expanding the definition of "political activities," in particular banning unions from campaigning for or against public referenda.
"I need this bill passed so we can get rid of public sector unions," Stafford told committee members, according to a tweet from Scott Rothschild, a reporter for the Lawrence Journal-World.
Tweets from Colin Curtis, a spokesman for United Steelworkers 307, and Topeka Councilman Chad Manspeaker (D), who is also a staffer for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 304, contained the same quote from Stafford at the same time. State Rep. Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita), a committee member, confirmed Stafford's comment via text message to The Huffington Post.
Manspeaker told HuffPost that the hearing "was getting pretty contentious" in exchanges between Stafford and Democrats, and that he believed that Stafford was trying to "talk over" the Democrats asking him questions when he made his statement.
"He blurted it out," Manspeaker said. "There was a gasp in the room."
Curtis told HuffPost that Stafford’s comment came in response to a question from Rep. Annie Tietze (D-Topeka). Curtis said that Stafford also told committee members to consider amending the bill to ban unions from collecting dues from public sector employees, a move that Curtis said labor groups had not expected.
Stafford could not be reached for immediate comment, as the committee hearing was still in session at the time of publication.
Opponents of the legislation had told HuffPost earlier this week that the bill is unnecessary since Kansas is a right-to-work state and workers join unions voluntarily. Curtis also told HuffPost that unions in the state already solicit political contributions separately from dues. Unions cannot use dues to pay for political activities under existing law.
State Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), a commerce committee member who supports the bill, told HuffPost Tuesday that the bill would allow workers to opt out of political activities they disagree with, but said that the bill would not end political activity by unions.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce was a central figure in last year's state legislative races, concentrating its work on behalf of conservative Republican candidates. Conservative Republicans now control the legislature, and the union bill is considered likely to pass. A spokeswoman for Gov. Sam Brownback (R) said that he does not take a position on bills until they've completed the legislative process.
Moderates in the state have accused Brownback and his conservative allies, including the Wichita-based Koch brothers, of wanting to turn the state into an "ultraconservative utopia."
Manspeaker said he and other opponents of the bill were surprised by Stafford's admission. Such candid admissions of an anti-union agenda by a representative of the Chamber of Commerce are almost unheard of, much less on the public record.
"We all know it is their agenda," Manspeaker said. "We were shocked to hear it in public."
UPDATE: 6:00 p.m. -- Stafford explained his comments in an email to The Huffington Post on Wednesday evening. He sought to downplay his comments about wanting to "get rid of public sector unions," instead stressing the end of political donations by members of public sector unions.
"Our goal is to get government out of the role of facilitating political fundraising for public sector unions," Stafford wrote. "If union members support the views of their organizations, the unions shouldn't see any change in political fundraising from its membership."
Stafford stressed that the Chamber's goal in pushing the legislation is "getting the government out of political fundraising for public sector unions" and not ending public sector unions in the state.
UPDATE: 7:30 p.m. -- Stafford further explained that his comments regarding unions came in a moment of "personal frustration" with a line of questioning at the hearing.
"I said it in a moment of personal frustration over the tone of the questioning by Rep. Annie Tietze, and we apologized to each other after the hearing," Stafford said in an email to HuffPost.
Also on HuffPost:
2012 -- Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama waves to supporters following his victory speech on election night in Chicago, Illinois on November 6, 2012. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
2008 -- Barack Obama
Nov. 4, 2008: U.S. president-elect Barack Obama waves at his supporters during his election night victory rally at Grant Park in Chicago. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
2004 -- George W. Bush
In this Nov. 3, 2004 file photo, President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush salute and wave during an election victory rally at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
2000 -- George W. Bush
U.S. Republican presidential candidate and Texas Governor George W. Bush casts his vote in Austin, Texas on November 7, 2000. (PAUL RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
1996 -- Bill Clinton
President Bill Clinton, wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea wave to supporters in front of the Old State House during an election night celebration in Little Rock, Ark. on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 1996. (AP Photo/David Longstreath)
1992 -- Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton and Al Gore celebrate in Little Rock, Arkansas after winning in a landslide election on November 3, 1992. (AP Photo)
1988 -- George H. W. Bush
President-elect George Bush and his family celebrate his victory on November 8,1988 at the Brown Convention Center in Houston. (WALT FRERCK/AFP/Getty Images) <em><strong>CORRECTION:</strong> An earlier version of this slide was titled "George W. Bush." It has been fixed.</em>
1984 -- Ronald Reagan
President Ronald Reagan gives a thumbs-up to supporters at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles as he celebrates his re-election, Nov. 6, 1984, with first lady Nancy Reagan at his side. (AP Photo/File)
1980 -- Ronald Reagan
President-elect Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy wave to well-wishers on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 1980 at Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles after his election victory. (AP Photo)
1976 -- Jimmy Carter
Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter embraces his wife Rosalynn after receiving the final news of his victory in the national general election on November 2, 1976. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
1972 -- Richard Nixon
U.S. President Richard M. Nixon meets at Camp David, Maryland, on November 13, 1972 to discuss the Vietnam situation with Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger (L) and Maj. Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr.(R), Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. (Photo by AFP PHOTO/NATIONAL ARCHIVE/Getty Images)
1968 -- Richard Nixon
President-elect Richard M. Nixon and his wife, Pat, were a picture of joy at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, Nov. 6, 1968, as he thanked campaign workers. At left are David Eisenhower, Julie Nixon's fiance, Julie and her sister Tricia at center. (AP Photo)
1964 -- Lyndon Johnson
President Lyndon Johnson proves he's a pretty good cowhand as he puts his horse, Lady B, through the paces of rounding up a Hereford yearling on his LBJ Ranch near Stonewall, Texas, on November 4, 1964. (AP Photo/Bill Hudson)
1960 -- John F. Kennedy
Caroline Kennedy peeps over the shoulder of her father, Senator John F. Kennedy, as he gave her a piggy-back ride November 9, 1960 at the Kennedy residence in Hyannis Port, Mass. It was the first chance president-elect Kennedy had to relax with his daughter in weeks. (AP Photo)
1956 -- Dwight D. Eisenhower
President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon salute cheering workers and Republicans at GOP election headquarters in Washington, November 7, 1956, after Adlai Stevenson conceded. (AP Photo)
1952 -- Dwight D. Eisenhower
President-elect Dwight Eisenhower and first lady-elect Mamie Eisenhower wave to the cheering, singing crowd in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Commodore in New York City on Nov. 5, 1952 after Gov. Adlai Stevenson conceded defeat. (AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman)
1948 -- Harry S. Truman
U.S. President Harry S. Truman holds up an Election Day edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune, which, based on early results, mistakenly announced "Dewey Defeats Truman" on November 4, 1948. The president told well-wishers at St. Louis' Union Station, "That is one for the books!" (AP Photo/Byron Rollins)
1944 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
President Franklin Roosevelt greets a young admirer as he sits outside his home in Hyde Park, N.Y., on election night, November 7, 1944. Behind him stands his daughter, Mrs. Anna Roosevelt Boettinger and the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. (AP Photo)
1940 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945) speaking to a crowd of 25,000 at Madison Square Garden in New York on Nov. 8, 1940, before his sweeping re-election for a third term. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
1936 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
The Republican Governor of Kansas and presidential candidate, Alfred Landon (1887 - 1987) greeting the American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945) (seated) prior to the presidential elections. Future United States President Harry S. Truman can been seen in the background. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
1932 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York at his Hyde Park, N.Y. home November 6, 1932, seen at the conclusion of the arduous months of campaigning following his presidential nomination in Chicago. (AP Photo)
1928 -- Herbert Hoover
President-elect Herbert Hoover is seated at a table with wife, Lou, and joined by other family members on Nov. 9, 1928. Standing from left: Allan Hoover; son; Margaret Hoover, with husband, Herbert Hoover, Jr.,at right. Peggy Ann Hoover, daughter of Herbert Hoover Jr., sits with her grandmother. (AP Photo)
1924 -- Calvin Coolidge
U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and first lady Grace Coolidge are shown with their dog at the White House portico in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 5, 1924. (AP Photo)
1920 -- Warren Harding
Senator Warren Harding, with wife Florence and his father George, shown on Aug. 27, 1920. (AP Photo)
1916 -- Woodrow Wilson
Surrounded by crowds, President Woodrow Wilson throws out the first ball at a baseball game in Washington in this 1916 photo. (AP Photo)
1912 -- Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson (1856 - 1924), the future American president, casts his vote while Governor of New Jersey, on Nov. 14, 1912. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)