The nation’s largest firefighters union has decided to bail on federal candidates this election cycle, dealing President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats a major blow in their efforts to hold the White House and Senate.
Although the International Association of Fire Fighters gives to both Democrats and Republicans, the 300,000-member organization gives far more to the Democratic Party. In the most recent election cycle, Democrats received $1.9 million, and Republicans, just over $400,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
In announcing the move to suspend federal campaign contributions, union President Harold Schaitberger blasted both parties, charging that “extreme right-wing conservative and so-called tea party politicians are coming after firefighters, paramedics, and all public workers with a vengeance across the United States” and that “too few Democrats are standing up and fighting for us.”
|Firefighters President Harold Schaitberger raps politicians from both sides of the aisle. (AP Photo)
“Over the past two years, politicians from both parties have failed to address our issues in Washington, DC,” he said. “Now, anti-labor members of Congress and their allies are championing measures that would undermine pension security, tax employer-sponsored health benefits, force newly hired fire fighters into Social Security and attack federal fire fighters. And with no pro-fire fighter legislation likely to be advanced in the 112th Congress – it’s time to take a stand.”
The Center for Responsive Politics reports that Democrats have received $14.5 million from the group’s political action committee and individuals. Its PAC, FIREPAC, ranks 10th among those contributing to federal-level politics during the 2010 election cycle.
The group was also a lifeline for a number of politicians in caught in tough fights. The Center for Responsive Politics noted that it ponied up $49,000 for Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in his race against Republican John Raese and donated $43,000 to help Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, pull out her win, running as an independent against tea party favorite Joe Miller.
The firefighters union has left the door open to resuming federal activity, and experts don’t expect the move to spread to other unions. Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, told The Associated Press that he would be surprised if other unions decided to withhold political donations.
"Other than making a very momentary splash, I don't think it's going to embarrass members of Congress into being more supportive of unions," Baker said, according to the AP.
Regardless, the union will not be leaving the battlefield. Schaitberger said the union would focus its considerable strength on GOP efforts in the states to roll back union rights, which he alleges are “funded by anti-labor extremists like the multibillionaire Koch brothers.” He said conservatives were “attempting to take away basic American rights” like collective bargaining, trying to eliminate pensions and retirement security, and seeking to drive down wages and benefits.
“We know we have legislative fights, ballot measures and re-call elections that will require us to be on the offensive at the state and local level through this fall,” he said. “I expect this strategic decision to focus our resources on state and local efforts, and the freezing of federal contributions, to last as long as the fights in the states remain at such a high level and until we see some real results and leadership from those in Washington, D.C., on our members’ behalf.”
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