- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 2, 2006

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney signaled last week just how big a role get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts will play in this fall’s elections. He announced at a press conference that he is committing tens of millions of dollars of union members’ money, which the AFL-CIO will spend exclusively on behalf of the Democratic Party. “We’ll spend $40 million in this election cycle — the largest ever in a midterm election,” Mr. Sweeney pledged.

“The vast majority of that money is for our mobilization efforts,” he said. “It’s not campaign contributions to individual candidates.” Of course, those candidate contributions, the vast majority of which will also go to Democrats, will come from other checks that Big Labor bosses will draw from bank accounts that are also funded by union members’ dues.

In fact, the $40 million commitment by Mr. Sweeney represents a small drop in the ever-expanding, overflowing bucket of money that Big Labor will spend on behalf of the Democratic Party. Indeed, in recent months, as more campaign-finance data has been gathered and published by the Federal Election Commission and watchdog groups, it has become increasingly evident that Big Labor will solve the Democrats’ GOTV problem.

That problem was created by Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s controversial strategy of spending scarce resources on party-building activities in the bright red states of Mississippi, Idaho and elsewhere. The Democrats’ 2006 GOTV problem had been further complicated by the apparent (and indisputably stupid) decisions by George Soros and other Democratic billionaire fat cats to watch the 2006 election from the sidelines.

With the Labor Day weekend playing its traditional role of kicking off the midterm electoral campaign that will determine which party will control the House and the Senate next year following the November elections, many Democrats have been fretting over the prospects of getting their voters to the polls in November. For months the newspapers have been filled with stories chronicling the expletives that have been hurled at Mr. Dean by Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel. The head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Mr. Emanuel has heatedly and publicly disagreed with the DNC chairman’s strategy in a year that offers Democrats their best electoral chance to recapture at least the House (and perhaps the Senate) since Democrats lost control of both chambers in 1994. Democrats, who have failed to win a majority in either body during the last five elections (1996, 1998, 20000, 2002 and 2004), need to gain 15 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate to achieve control of those chambers. Mr. Emanuel is particularly disturbed by the fact that, according to the latest data (through July), the Republican National Committee had nearly four times as much cash on hand ($43.6 million) as the DNC had ($11.3 million).

Equally understandably, Mr. Emanuel is also peeved at billionaire Mr. Soros, who apparently is taking a financial sabbatical for much of this election year after spending nearly $25 million ginning up Democratic turnout in 2004. (So far in 2006, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign-finance watchdog group, Mr. Soros has spent less than 8 percent of his 2004 total.) Referring to Mr. Soros and a couple of other 2004 big spenders, Mr. Emanuel angrily complained recently to Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne: “These guys — where are they?” After John Kerry lost to President Bush by less than 2.5 percentage points in 2004, “they walked off the field,” Mr. Emanuel bitterly declared.

Mr. Emanuel has a point, and Republicans ought to be extremely grateful for his dilemma. Simultaneously battling the bottomless pockets of both Big George Soros and Big Labor in a midterm-election year might be too much even for the GOP money machine to handle. Because Mr. Kerry lost, Mr. Soros seems to think he didn’t get his money’s worth. In fact, the $23.3 million that Mr. Soros spent in 2004 was instrumental (and probably indispensable) in increasing the Democratic presidential-vote total by eight million votes — from Al Gore’s 51 million in 2000 to John Kerry’s 59 million. The Democrats’ problem in 2004, over which Mr. Soros had no control, was that President Bush increased his vote total by 11.6 million from 2000 (50.4 million) to 2004 (62 million). Despite facing no primary opposition, the Bush-Cheney ‘04 campaign raised $270 million (in 1996, Clinton-Gore raised $42.5 million with no primary opposition) in pre-convention funds, which helped to bankroll the Republicans’ GOTV juggernaut in November.

Even without Mr. Soros and others writing the big checks in 2006, Big Labor’s money machine will present Republicans with huge problems. The assault will be multidimensional. In 2005 alone, according to an FEC tally, labor political action committees (PACs) raised more than $100 million. That was 14 percent above their receipts in 2003 and nearly 30 percent above their receipts in 2001, the initial year in the most recent two-year midterm cycle.

Despite the fact that 43 percent of voters from union households cast their vote for President Bush in 2004, according to a Los Angeles Times exit poll of more than 5,000 voters, labor PACs continued their tradition in 2005 of giving the vast majority of their contributions to Democratic candidates. Specifically, last year, labor PACs gave $3.2 million to Senate candidates, 89 percent of which went to Democrats. Labor PACs also gave $17.7 million in 2005 to House candidates, 85 percent of which went to Democrats.

According to an FEC tally for 2005, eight labor PACs ranked among the top 12 PACs in the nation in terms of receipts; and four were among the top six. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) collected $10.1 million from its union members last year; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) raised $5.9 million from its members in 2005; the United Auto Workers (UAW) collected $5.7 million from its members; and the Teamsters’ PAC — DRIVE (Democratic Republican Independent Voter Education), which has given 89 percent of its contributions to Democrats — collected $5 million from its members.

These four unions have been busy dipping into the pockets of their members this year as well. According to the latest data from the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), SEIU has raised $16.5 million from its members this year, increasing its 2005-2006 total to $26.6 million, making it the largest fund-raising PAC in the nation at this stage of the two-year cycle. AFSCME’s PAC raised $4.5 million so far this year, bringing its two-year total so far to $10.4 million.

In terms of cash on hand at the end of 2005, labor PACs comprised nine of the top 15. SEIU had $12.6 million in cash at the end of last year; the UAW had $11.2 million; the longshoremen had $7.9 million; and the American Federation of Teachers had $5 million. Those figures are undoubtedly much higher now. Not well known is the fact that contributions to candidates comprise a relatively small portion of PAC expenditures. During the 2003-2004 cycle, for example, labor PACs raised $192 million and contributed only $52 million to candidates, according to the FEC. (Democratic candidates received 87.1 percent of those contributions.)

The balance of $140 million was spent pursuing other political activities, including GOTV efforts, phone banks, direct mailing and polling. It is fair to assume that the vast majority of those activities were for the benefit of Democratic candidates — despite the fact that, according to a CNN exit poll involving nearly 14,000 voters, 38 percent of union members themselves (as opposed to union-household members, who comprised the cohort in the Los Angeles Times poll cited above) voted for President Bush in 2004.

Above and beyond labor PAC money, which is financed by members’ dues payments, labor unions use the same funding source to bankroll some the nation’s largest 527 political committees, which derive their name from the IRS section that governs them. In 2003-04, SEIU and AFSCME 527 committee spent $48 million and $26 million, respectively, according to CRP. During the 2005-06 cycle so far, SEIU ($18 million) and AFSCME ($10 million) rank first and second in expenditures among all 527 political committees in the nation.

Clearly, Big Labor seems poised to fill any GOTV void created by Mr. Dean’s incompetence and Mr. Soros’ passivity.

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