The largest labor union representing government workers has poured more money into the 2010 elections than any other outside group, providing a boon to Democratic candidates. And much of that money comes straight from taxpayers, critics allege.
Despite representing just 5 percent of the nation’s workforce, the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has contributed an astounding $87.5 million to help Democrats in hotly contested midterm races, according to campaign records.
Critics contend that the America taxpayer is supporting such political action, because AFSCME’s money comes from union dues automatically deducted from public employees’ tax-funded salaries.
That money is being used to fuel multimillion-dollar political campaign operations, funding everything from television commercials to phone banks for Democrats.
"Public-sector unions have a guaranteed source of revenue — you and me as taxpayers," Glenn Spencer, executive director of the Workforce Freedom Initiative at the Chamber of Commerce, tells The Wall Street Journal.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, also takes issue with AFSCME’s political donations. “Americans are funding the labor union's favorite candidates with their own tax dollars,” he tells Newsmax. “Every penny taken in union dues from government employees comes from taxpayers in the first place.”
Although Democrats have been critical of Republican fundraising efforts, AFSCME has outspent both the United States Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads Political Action Committee. Those GOP-centric groups have contributed $75 million and $65 million, respectively, ranking them second and third on this year’s donor list, according to the Journal.
So far this campaign season, AFSCME, the National Education Association teachers union, and the Service Employees International Union (the second-largest public employee union) have given a combined $172 million to candidates.
Norquist and others see such lavish funding from organized labor as a “payback” for the billions in bailouts and federal stimulus money given to the states to protect public-sector jobs.
Since contracts for public sector union workers depend on government largesse, this arm of organized labor is contributing directly to those who set their paychecks. “The labor union bosses are quite clear what they want from the politicians they support,” Norquist explains. “They want higher taxes on American taxpayers, and they want the money spent on themselves.”
AFSCME’S efforts come at a time when public employee expenses have pushed many states to the brink of insolvency. From California, which owes $535 billion to its public employees retirement plan, to Pennsylvania, which faces its pension obligations increasing eightfold in the next two years, the benefits that public-sector unions garner from taxpayers have made unions very unpopular.
A 2009 Gallup survey found that organized labor’s image has suffered significantly. Fewer than half of Americans — 48 percent, an all-time low — approve of labor unions, down from 59 percent in 2008.
Unlike the recession-ravaged private sector, where company revenues dictate how much a business can engage in the political process, public-sector unions have no such limitation.
Despite the overall decline of union rolls, AFSCME has increased its membership by 25 percent during the past decade. In large part, the swelling of its ranks can be attributed to the sharp increase in the size and scope of government at the local, state, and federal levels.
Larry Scanlon, director of AFSCME’s political operations, expresses his strategy candidly, telling the Journal: "The more members coming in, the more dues coming in, the more money we have for politics. We’re the big dog.”
AFSCME President Gerald McEntee explained why the union is spending so heavily this election. “A lot of people are attacking public-sector workers as the problem," he said. "We're spending big. And we're damn happy it's big. And our members are damn happy it's big — it's their money."
Norquist summed up many conservative critics’ disdain for the union’s political activities, stating, “If you see a politician receiving campaign funds from public sector unions, you know one thing for sure: That politician has promised publicly or privately to raise taxes to pay off the union in return.”
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, FreindlyFireZone.com.
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