Big Labor ramped up its political spending during the 2018 election season, dwarfing the amount it spent during the 2016 presidential campaign.
An analysis of union financial disclosures and reports found that labor organizations spent more than $2 billion on political activities in the run-up to the midterm elections that saw Democrats take control of the House of Representatives for the first time in eight years. That spending was an 18 percent increase from 2016, despite the fact that non-presidential elections tend to attract less attention from voters and lower spending by advocacy and campaign groups. Nearly 70 percent of political expenditures, which include lobbying, came directly from worker dues, according to the analysis conducted by the National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILRR).
"Union officials spent $1.37 billion directly from union treasuries (filled with forced dues and fees) on politics, dwarfing the reported combined political spending of George Soros, the Koch Brothers, and Hollywood during the same period," the report says.
Mark Mix, president of the labor watchdog National Right to Work Foundation, said that he was not surprised by the record spending. Labor groups campaigned heavily for Hillary Clinton in 2016, only to see 43 percent of union households pull the lever for Donald Trump, giving Republicans control of Congress and the White House. The outpouring of money in 2018 was aimed supporting candidates friendly to the union agenda.
"It's no surprise that Big Labor unloaded their multi-billion-dollar war-chest in the 2018 election cycle to push for candidates willing to grant union bosses enormous privileges in direct opposition to worker freedom," Mix said in a statement. "Union bosses spend employees’ hard-earned money to support political agendas that undermine the rights of the employees they claim to ‘represent,' and in the 23 states that lack Right to Work laws, private sector employees are forced to subsidize these politically active private organizations with a cut of their paychecks."
NILRR analyzed union disclosures to the Department of Labor, as well as records submitted to the Federal Election Commission and state agencies, to compile a comprehensive account for political behavior during the 2018 cycle. Scrutinizing that data revealed that unions had used accounting gimmicks to hide some of their political spending. The report pointed to the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country, which mischaracterized a $14 million contribution to a 501(c)4 political advocacy group as a "gift," rather than political expense in its federal filings.
"Union officials misclassified several hundred million dollars more in union officer’s political and lobbying expenses which were misclassified as ‘Contributions, gifts, and grants' on their union disclosure reports," the report said. "The National Education Association (NEA) paid $14 million to a 501(c)4 organization, but incorrectly identified it as a non-political lobbying expense on their USDOL financial disclosure report." The union gave $14 million to the State Engagement Fund, a K-Street-based dark money group that funneled millions of dollars to liberal political operations in several battleground states
The NEA did not respond to request for comment. The Washington Free Beacon was unable to get in touch with the State Engagement Fund, as the voicemail box associated with the group was full. The group's attorney, Michael Weisel, did not respond to email seeking comment.
The report said the $2 billion figure is likely a conservative estimate, as "NILRR chose to mostly ignore the $514 million of union reported ‘Contributions, gifts, and grants' that are heavily misclassified."