Monday, November 05, 2007

Unions Will Spend More in 08 than Ever Before

Democrats frequently complain that there is too much money in politics, and that 'special interests' in Washington have undue influence. It seems that Senators Edwards and Obama in particular, have complained that Ms. Clinton is bought and paid for.

But if big money in political campaigns is bad, Democrats should be training their fire on America's labor unions, who have promised to spend more on the 2008 election than they ever have before:

The AFL-CIO, the largest labor federation in the country, last month predicted that its 55-member unions will spend over $200 million in the 2008 campaign, a sum that includes both funds for grass-roots mobilization efforts and contributions directly to candidates through PACs, according to spokesman Steve Smith. The AFL-CIO itself has pledged a budget of $53 million for spending on mobilization for the election, up from $50 million in 2004. It is the federation’s largest election budget ever...

Electoral success doesn’t come cheap, however, and the labor movement appears set to spend more than it ever has before to boost its chosen candidates. That spending is directed to three separate outlets. Under federal election law, unions are prohibited from donating directly to candidates, but can spend unlimited funds from the union treasury to communicate with their own members. These funds are generally derived from member dues. Unions thus spend heavily to mobilize their own members to support labor-friendly candidates.

That is what the AFL-CIO has in mind when it comes to the $53 million it will be spending in 2008. According to Smith, the funds will go toward “a prolonged campaign that moves from issues education to engagement to mobilization to finally get-out-the-vote efforts in late stages of the campaign.”

With more than 10 million workers in unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO, including high concentrations in battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin, effective mobilization efforts could have a pivotal effect in both the Congressional and presidential races.

Unions also can form political action committees and raise funds from their members via voluntary donations. Those PACs can then donate to candidates of their choice...

In the House races, 40 candidates have already received more than $100,000 in union contributions, the vast majority of whom are members facing challenges in what CQ has deemed “races to watch.” Members of the Democratic leadership, notably Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer also received sizable contributions.

On the Senate side, two candidates have received more than $100,000 in labor donations — Democrats Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Mark Udall , who is running for the open seat in Colorado.

Among presidential contenders, Clinton leads the way with more than $48,000 in labor PAC contributions, followed by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, D, with $38,000. Two other Democrats who are union favorites — Edwards and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama — do not accept money from PACs.

The sum of contributions made from union PACs has grown steadily in the last ten years, despite the fact that the number of PACs themselves has declined. In the 1996 election cycle, such PACs made $57.6 million in donations to federal candidates. In 2004, that number reached $68 million. PACs affiliated with organized labor donated more than any other single industry sector in the last presidential election cycle.

John Edwards has spoken at length about the corrupting influence of money in politics, and how there are Two Americas because some can buy access and some cannot. He seems to be rather close to labor unions -- who obviously fall into that first category. Since Senators Obama and Edwards have renounced contributions from labor PACs, perhaps they'd be willing to go the whole nine yards and refuse all contributions from labor unions and leaders. Who knows -- maybe they'd start a trend.

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