The independent political arm of the nation’s largest government workers union has taken out a $1 million loan to replenish its coffers after spending millions of dollars backing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and criticizing her rival, Sen. Barack Obama, according to campaign records.
Despite the union’s endorsement of Mrs. Clinton, state chapters of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in Illinois and Oregon have broken with the national leadership in recent months and thrown their support behind Mr. Obama.
Filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) show that the union’s political group, AFSCME People, took out a $1 million loan on Feb. 25 from Amalgamated Bank in New York while spending more than $2 million to sway the Democratic contest. The expenditures included more than $200,000 in negative mailers against Mr. Obama in New Hampshire, Iowa and Ohio.
Several AFSCME vice presidents worry that the move could hurt the union if Mr. Obama secures the Democratic nomination.
Officials from AFSCME’s independent political committee did not return numerous phone messages.
Gerald McEntee, AFSCME president and a prominent backer of former President Bill Clinton and Mrs. Clinton, yesterday stood by the decision to back the senator from New York, saying “she can rebuild the country, strengthen the middle class and bring back good jobs.”
“When we endorse a candidate, we back it up with everything we’ve got,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been doing. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do for the November election.”
But Ken Allen, executive director of Oregon AFSCME Council 75, has said the national union ignored requests from his state chapter to refrain from campaigning for Mrs. Clinton in Oregon, which holds its primary today.
“President McEntee has ignored our requests and sent a mail piece on behalf of Sen. Clinton, phoned our members, moved staff to Oregon to assist the Clinton campaign and now is sending off another mailer,” Mr. Allen wrote in a May 7 letter to state union members, which is posted on the state chapter’s Web site, www.oregonafscme.com.
“McEntee’s actions are disrespectful to our Oregon leaders, members and a waste of money,” he added. “Given the status of the race at this time his efforts are probably meaningless.”
In a letter to Mr. Allen distributed to Oregon chapter members, Mr. McEntee said the national union’s executive board voted 23-10 to back Mrs. Clinton and that officials “fully intend to educate our members about why Senator Clinton earned our endorsement.”
Because of the drawn-out nomination fight between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, AFSCME and other union political action groups are spending more during this campaign season compared with previous presidential races, according to FEC filings.
In contrast to AFSCME, the political arm of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), known as the Committee on Political Education (COPE), has backed Mr. Obama, spending more than $10 million on the presidential race, including $1.5 million attacking presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain, according to the FEC.
SEIU-COPE reported spending less than $1 million through the first three months of 2004 heading into the general election between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry.