The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is spending hundreds of thousands dollars to elect Democratic Senate candidate Gary Peters in Michigan just months after it settled one of the largest campaign finance violations in state history.
SEIU COPE, the union’s political arm, has spent more than $300,000 on a 30-second attack ad against Republican candidate Terri Lynn Land, according to FEC filings. The union, which represents tens of thousands of Michigan healthcare workers and public employees, has been the fifth largest independent political spender in the 2014 cycle thus far.
"With Terri Lynn Land Michigan’s working families just keep falling behind," the ad says.
The major ad buy, which has reached some of Michigan’s largest media markets, represents the union’s most prolific political spending since it was forced to pay the second largest campaign finance fine in state history in March. The $200,000 settlement stemmed from SEIU’s campaign operations during the 2012 election, when it launched a failed campaign to amend the state constitution to force home healthcare workers to join unions.
SEIU funneled about $9 million into two union front groups during the 2012 campaign in order to avoid disclosure.
"These organizations cannot be used as a means to conceal the identity of the true contributors," Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said in a release announcing the settlement. "This agreement reflects our commitment to transparency and accountability in the campaign finance process, especially in an election year."
SEIU pocketed about $6 million per year from the coercive unionization. When the amendment failed, SEIU’s membership numbers and dues plummeted. About 80 percent of home healthcare workers withdrew from the union, according to an April analysis.
Vincent Vernuccio, a labor analyst at the free market Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said that political donations have been central to SEIU’s financial well-being, which is why the union has spent so much money in Michigan historically.
"What you have with some government unions is a vicious circle. The union gives money to politicians who then get elected. The elected official then can give favors to the unions giving them more money to turn around and donate for the elected official’s reelection campaign," Vernuccio said. "The official can get reelected to give more money to the unions. The cycle goes on and on and everyone is happy, everyone except the taxpayers who are stuck footing the bill."
President Obama won Michigan by double digits in 2012 and retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin beat his Republican opponent by 30 points in 2008. However, Land trails Peters by fewer than two points, according to a Real Clear Politics average of polls. Land, Michigan’s former Secretary of State, has also outraised Peters thus far in the cycle and has a $1 million cash advantage.
Peters’ poor fundraising and Land’s competitiveness have attracted a flood of money from outside liberal groups. Sen. Harry Reid’s super PAC, Senate Majority PAC, has spent nearly $2 million in attack ads as of March, while SEIU and public sector union AFSCME have spent a combined $600,000 on attack ads in recent months.
The Land campaign said the strong financial push from national Democrats demonstrates that she is running a good campaign.
"The Michigan Senate race is one of the hottest races in America and special interests from Washington's Senator Harry Reid to California's radical billionaire Tom Steyer are targeting Terri because they know that her proven record reforming government will resonate with the people of Michigan," Land spokeswoman Heather Swift said in a statement. "The fact that these groups are spending big dollars is proof that Terri has the momentum."
The SEIU ad claims that Land is in the pocket of "billionaire special interests," as ominous images of libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch appear on screen. Land is not surprised by the imagery, pointing out that the attacks reflect Peters’ poor voting record and radical environmentalist beliefs that could alienate Michigan working class voters.
"Gary Peters however can't stand on his record because it's riddled with job-killing votes like cap-and-trade," Swift said.
Neither the SEIU, nor the Peters campaign returned requests for comment.