Report: Big Labor Hides Millions in 2020 Election Spending

Experts say reported political spending is a portion of actual total

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July 26, 2021

Unions hid tens of millions of dollars in political spending during the 2020 election cycle as part of a nearly $1.8 billion campaign to boost Democrats.

A study from the National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILRR) found $67 million in hidden political spending from unions in 2019 and 2020. Unions sent millions to liberal groups but classified the donations as charitable activities or grants—a loophole that allows them to bypass federal labor laws that protect workers from funding political causes they find objectionable.

Patrick Semmens, a spokesman for the National Right to Work Committee, said unions misclassify political spending because there are little to no consequences even if they are caught.

"Knowing at most they face only the lightest slap on the wrist only further incentivizes union officials to obscure their political spending from the rank-and-file," Semmens told the Washington Free Beacon. "On top of that, when the Office of Labor-Management Standards does try to crack down, union officials know they can likely wait them out until a more union-friendly administration is elected with the backing of those very monies they are supposed to be reporting."

The NILRR study found nearly $1.8 billion listed under "Political Spending and Lobbying" sections in federal labor filings from 2019 and 2020. The additional $67 million in misclassified political spending was listed in the "Representational Activities" and "Contributions, Gifts, and Grants" sections. Dissenting workers can pay partial dues to avoid funding union political activities, but that firewall does not apply to representational activities or other spending.

Federal labor filings show that major labor unions have sent millions of dollars in member and dissenter dues to political nonprofits. The National Education Association, for example, sent more than $18 million to the Strategic Victory Fund, a progressive lobbying organization, and the State Engagement Fund, a left-wing 501(c)(4) advocacy organization—both of which focus on politics. The National Education Association, the largest teachers' union in the country, did not respond to a request for comment.

Another loophole, according to the NILRR, regards unions that are not required to file LM-2 reports due to a lack of spending. These unions file alternative reports, which do not include political spending listings. Large unions are then able to give money to these smaller unions that don't have to report political spending—allowing for millions in additional political spending to go untracked.

Nearly 80 percent of the listed political spending came through the unions' general treasuries in LM-2 reports, which are largely funded by union member dues. This is where the NILRR discovered millions of dollars in political spending to be misclassified. Sixteen percent of the reported $1.8 billion total went to state and local elections. The remaining total came through union-affiliated PACs in Federal Election Commission filings.

Public sector unions used just under $300 million in political spending during the election cycle, according to the report.

Aaron Withe, CEO of the Freedom Foundation, said this number is only one measure of the political power of public sector unions.

"They give far more when you consider the release time given to public employees to make calls and knock doors for candidates," Withe told the Free Beacon. "The real scandal here is that the hundreds of millions of dollars that unions are spending belongs to teachers and other public servants and should be used to feed their families, not spent to elect liberal politicians who want to increase their taxes."

Unions continue to focus on national politics as Democrats attempt to pass the PRO Act. The bill, which is in committee, would put an end to the 27 "right-to-work" states that ban union dues as a term of employment. The bill also puts severe restrictions on companies using independent contractors.

Matt Leen, vice president of the National Right to Work Committee, said the PRO Act is a way for Democrats to repay unions for their support.

"Though $1.8 billion is certainly a conservative estimate when it comes to big labor's 2020 political spending spree, it's amazing what it has already bought them," Leen told the Free Beacon. "President Biden and union allies in the Senate are dead set on destroying right-to-work protections from coast-to-coast with the so-called PRO Act, which contains a plethora of other provisions that will force workers under union power and let union officials demand they pay up as a condition of staying employed."