A public employees union made three massive advertising buys Tuesday, catapaulting the previously relatively quiet union to a major player in critical Senate races as well as the presidential election.
The political action committee of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees-AFL-CIO (AFSCME-AFL-CIO) made a $1 million ad buy in the Wisconsin Senate race opposing Republican Tommy Thompson, according to spending records released Thursday.
It spent another million supporting Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley in her challenge to GOP incumbent Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada.
And the union directly spent nearly a million more opposing Denny Rehberg, a Republican representative who is attempting to unseat Montana Sen. Jon Tester, with an ad entitled “Gamble.”
AFSCME now stands in second place in terms of PAC money spent on political ads since August 1, behind only American Crossroads, the super PAC helmed by Republican operatives including Karl Rove.
American Crossroads has spent $6 million. In third place, the Democratic super PAC Majority PAC, which focuses on House races and also draws funding from unions, has spent $800,000. Those sums are more than both parties’ House and Senate committees, such as the National Republican Congressional Committee.
But outside groups that are not political entities have increasingly played a role in politics, and because it used union funds rather than money in a special political committee, the Montana buy falls in that category.
Among those groups, chiefly secret-money nonprofit groups, Americans for Prosperity, has dominated at $10 million in advertising, mostly against President Obama. But the AFSCME buy places it second in that category as well, at nearly $3 million, counting the Montana Senate buy plus $2 million the union has spent opposing Mitt Romney.
Unions have said they lack the monetary resources to compete with Republican super PACs, so they are relying instead on thousands of volunteer workers, who they’ve dispatched to go knocking door to door. But this marks a shift back into traditional advertising territory.
AFSCME did not immediately respond to a request for comment.