Unions Have Spent $4.4 billion on Political Activity Since 2005

Unions Have Spent $4.4 billion on Political Activity Since 2005

A report by the Wall Street Journallooks at the amount of money spent by unions on political organizingand finds it is actually four times the amount reported in FEC filings.Since 2005, unions have spent $4.4 billion on direct donations andorganizing activities, nearly all of it on behalf of Democrats.

The Federal Election Commission requires unions to report any directdonations to candidates or PACs. However, more detailed reports filedwith the Department of Labor indicate that the money reported to the FECis only about 1/4 of the amount unions spend on political activity.Money spent on things like internal communications to members (pushingthem to vote for union approved candidates) and local political racesrepresent the remainder.

About half of the money reported to the Labor Department is spent on donations to state and local races.The remainder is spent paying salaries of union officials who spendtheir time on political activities, nearly all of which benefitsDemocrats. In 2010, union political work contributed the equivalent of “3,242 full-timeoperatives with a payroll of $214 million.”

The donation of time and money to Democratic candidates by unionsmakes up for the contributions of corporations. As the Journal notes,corporate donors tend to split their money between the parties, “In 2008, Democrats received 55% of the $2 billion contributed bycorporate PACs and company employees, according to the Center forResponsive Politics.” The net effect, when it does benefit Republicans,is smaller than the donation of union time and money, more than 90percent of which goes to Democrats.

The AFL-CIO is one of the largest union donors. Combining the money spent on the losing (for Democrats) 2010 electioncycle and the losing 2011 recall election in Wisconsin, the AFL-CIO hasdropped nearly a billion dollars in the last three years. Though theAFL-CIO has lost 2 million members since 2005, the percentage of duesspent on politics has gone up during this same period. 

Democrats continue to complain about Citizens United and the dangerof having too much money in politics. But those concerns only apply toRepublicans. You will never hear them complain about the “shadow army”of union members working on their behalf or the billions spent tobenefit their candidates and causes.


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