Mary Kay Henry: Crony Supreme

SEIU president heavily involved with shadowy liberal moneymen

Henry / SEIU
September 19, 2012

One of the nation’s most powerful labor leaders also steers money to Democrats through the secretive Democracy Alliance.

Mary Kay Henry sits on the board of the wealthy club of liberal millionaires and billionaires even as she slams "millionaires and billionaires" in her role as president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the largest labor unions in the world.

Her union has converted the dues of more than 2.2 million members into a political cash cow for Democratic politicians. Henry has doubled down on that investment in the 2012 election cycle.

SEIU has contributed more than $12.4 million this election cycle—making it the seventh-largest donor entity in the nation—with almost all of that money going to Democrats, including nearly $20,000 for President Barack Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But the SEIU gives to Democrats in less direct ways as well, including more than $9 million on political advertisements to boost pro-labor candidates and get-out-the-vote efforts to benefit their allies. More than half of that money has financed attack ads against Republicans in swing states and states with close congressional races.

The SEIU has also been a major player in the Alliance, a relationship that dates back to the very beginnings of the organization, which was co-founded by hedge fund billionaire George Soros and Progressive Insurance magnate Peter Lewis.

The union’s headquarters at 1800 Massachusetts Ave. NW in Washington D.C. may even have been used as a mailing address for the Democracy Alliance. The Pacific Foundation, a partnering organization, mailed a $40,000 check to the Alliance at that address in 2008, according to its tax filings.

The Alliance did not return multiple requests for comment.

Conservative elections expert Jay Cost said the mix of union giants with business titans may have been unthinkable decades ago, but the Democratic party’s growing "diversity of interests"—from wealthy cultural liberals to labor groups—has made a group like the Democracy Alliance necessary for liberals to win elections.

"What’s the connection between groups like the AFL-CIO or SEIU and Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition?" Cost said. "There is none, so you need an intermediary like the Democracy Alliance to bring all of these single interest groups together."

Henry has accused businesses of trying to buy elections, though she has far less to say about the estimated $4.4 billion unions spent to help elect Democratic politicians between 2005 and 2011.

"I think the impact of the Citizens United decision is that hundreds of millions of dollars that don’t have to be disclosed in terms of where they came from poured into this last election," Henry said at the Tennessee SEIU’s 2010 conference.

She could have been describing the Democracy Alliance, which has secretly donated more than $100 million to liberal causes between 2005 and 2008, according to the Capital Research Center.

The group does not disclose its donors or its recipients because it does not handle the contributions directly. Instead, members attend conferences at some of the nation’s ritziest hotels and resorts. Security guards are on site to keep journalists and everyday citizens from stumbling upon the gathering of wealthy liberal financiers.

Members and recipients are also prohibited from speaking publicly about the group’s operations and must clear interview requests with Alliance leaders before agreeing to interviews.

Henry did not respond to requests for comment.

"Organized labor has an incentive to keep that kind of operation quiet," elections expert Cost told the Washington Free Beacon last month during its investigation into fellow Alliance member and former AFL-CIO leader Karen Ackerman. "They don’t want the scrutiny that comes with that level of contribution—especially when it engages in what amounts to legal money laundering."

Henry has visited the White House 15 times to discuss a variety of healthcare and economic issues since Obama took office in 2009. Her leadership in the Alliance could mean a big windfall for the president’s reelection campaign.

The Alliance’s leadership decided to include the Obama campaign’s affiliated Super PAC, Priorities USA, in its list of favored organizations in 2011 following a visit from Vice President Joe Biden. It has also pumped enormous amounts of money into groups with close ties to the White House, such as the Center for American Progress and Media Matters.

Last year Henry slammed the Koch brothers for trying to exert influence over the electoral process, accusing them of being behind Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s support for reforming the state’s collective bargaining law.

"Walker has proven time and again that his first priority is rewarding the Koch Brothers and corporate interests, not the people of Wisconsin," she said in 2011.

Campaign finance expert Bradley Smith said such attempts to demonize money in politics only highlight the hypocrisy of liberal activists like Henry.

"People should be allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money, as long as they play by the rules of the game," he said. "But to directly attack the Kochs, to accuse the Kochs of being nefarious is laughable when they’re acting ‘nefarious’ in the same way."