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Union officials said many of the expanded disclosures were unnecessary and accused the Bush administration of retaliating against labor unions for their support of Democrats.

Mrs. Chao described as “laughable” any union talk about how “onerous” it would be to comply with the expanded regulations. She said labor organizations repeatedly fought her on the added disclosures and it appeared “many labor leaders feel threatened by transparency.”

“What are they afraid of?” she asked.

LM-2 filings

In 2003, the Bush administration announced that the unions had to list on their LM-2 filings -annual reports disclosing union finances - any recipients of $5,000 or more in union funds. This included vendors, charities and political candidates, with specific amounts instead of lump-sum totals. These added disclosures, which took effect in 2004, were designed to shed light on where unions spent their money.

In the closing days of the Bush administration, the Labor Department sought to further increase the number of disclosures the unions had to make on the LM-2 forms. The new rules would have required unions to disclose the name of any party buying or selling union assets of $5,000 or more, making it easier for members to determine whether the transactions were at arm’s length. Unions currently need to list only the item and the sale or purchase price.

While unions for decades have been required to list salaries and expenses for each officer and employee by name, the expanded Bush rules would have demanded greater disclosure of benefits such as deferred compensation and union-provided housing.

The first filings under the Bush administration’s LM-2 rules would have been due later this year, but the Obama administration said in April 2009 that it wanted to delay implementation and formally withdrew the rules in October. The Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), which enforces labor disclosure laws, said it withdrew the new rules because unions said the requirements were burdensome and the department felt it had not sufficiently reviewed the disclosure requirements added in 2003.

A review of LM-2 forms by The Times found disclosures that would not have been available on the filings prior to the Bush administration’s 2003 rule changes. For example, 14 national unions were listed as giving $3.2 million to a planning committee responsible for private funding for the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.

The top donors, who gave more than $2.2 million, were the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).

A check of the Labor Department database showed only one large donation to the 2008 Republican convention host committee - $50,000 from the SEIU.

The additional disclosures also helped expose the suspected misuse of funds. Tyrone Freeman, head of the largest union local in California, was forced out of office after the Los Angeles Times found that he had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, including contracts to his wife’s video production firm and nearly $10,000 to a cigar bar, based in part on information from the LM-2 forms.

As a result, Mr. Freeman is under federal investigation and his former union, the United Long-Term Care Workers Union of the SEIU, has sued him for $1.1 million.

LM-30 filings

Last year, the Obama administration also backed off a rule requiring union officials and employees to file a more detailed version of the conflict-of-interest form known as the LM-30. The rule also would have forced more people - union shop stewards, in some cases - to file the forms.

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