Union Political Spending Four Times Larger Than Reported
A new Wall Street Journal analysis shows political and lobbying expenditures for labor unions is at least four times larger than the officially reported figure.
Reporters Tom McGinty and Brody Mullins poured through detailed financial filings required by the Labor Department to assess the amount spent by over 3,500 unions nationwide on "under the radar" political spending, from hours spent by union officials on politics through bratwurst grilled for protesters camped out at the Wisconsin State Capitol.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) requires disclosure of direct or "hard" money spending directly to federal candidates or to support candidates for Congress by unions and corporate political action committees (PACs). When comparisons of political spending are made by most media outlets, they cite the FEC's figure for union political sending.
From 2005 to 2011, unions reported spending $1.1 billion in this category.
The Wall Street Journal investigation, using the more extensive Labor Department disclosure forms, showed unions had spent an additional $3.3 billion on political activities during the same time period.
A little over half of this shadow spending is direct contributions to candidates at the state and local levels not subject to any federal disclosure requirements, along with fees paid to attorneys, consultants and service providers.
The rest is primarily salaries for full or part time union officials.
According to the Journal's analysis, in 2010, politics and lobbying accounted for at least 50% of the hours worked by 1,996 union employees; 940 employees spent all of their time on politics.
The reported hours worked in 2010 were equivalent to 3,242 full-time operatives with a payroll of $214 million.
Political spending by unions has been on the rise as the Labor Department documents show a 23% increase in spending by unions from the 2005-2006 election season to the 2009-2010 season. In addition, the forms show significant spikes in union political spending in the month before an election, with unions spending just over $40 million in the month before the '06 elections and ramping that up to nearly $80 million in 2010.
Unlike the FEC disclosures, the Labor Department forms only show the amount spent and not on what candidates or causes the expenditures are made.
However, since about 92% of union "hard" money contributions are made to Democrats, it is assumed this under-the-table spending roughly follows that proportion.
This report was released just a few days after President Obama sent a fundraising email to his supporters claiming, "we're getting outraised," and asking for more donations.
Obama writes, "this election will be a test of the model that got us here. We'll learn whether it's still true that a grassroots campaign can elect a president -- whether ordinary Americans are in control of our democracy in the face of massive spending."
With the extent of union political spending, it seems highly unlikely President Obama will be outspent this election season.
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