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2020 Dems Received $12.5 Million From Unions Over Careers

Sanders, Harris top fundraisers among crowded field

Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris / Getty Images
• July 1, 2019 5:00 am

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Democratic presidential candidates have hauled in hefty campaign contributions from organized labor throughout their political careers.

The Democratic presidential candidates have combined to receive $12.5 million from organized labor during their time in public office, according to a Washington Free Beacon review of state and federal campaign records. The presidential hopefuls are now jockeying for union endorsements and attempting to win over the sector to secure pivotal voters and volunteers in a crowded primary. Staffers from two campaigns, Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I., Vt.) and former secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro's, have unionized. Many top unions are in no rush to endorse in a field full of familiar allies.

"With this many candidates running, working people can afford to be selective with our vote," John Weber, press secretary for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) told ABC News in May. "We're looking for a candidate who understands that the single best way to make our economy fairer is by making it easier to join a union. If your first priority isn't fighting for working families, we're not interested."

Former vice president Joe Biden garnered the cycle's first big endorsement from the International Association of Fire Fighters. The former Delaware senator, however, is far from the top beneficiary of union cash out of the candidates seeking the party's nomination. Despite having been involved in politics longer than most in the primary, Biden's campaigns have received a combined total of just $363,499 from labor, according to sector data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Sanders, who has made union solidarity a central theme of his campaign, is the top recipient of campaign cash from unions throughout his political career. The Vermont senator has been given nearly $2 million from the sector. Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.), who is 23 years younger than Biden, has been the second biggest beneficiary, pulling in nearly $1.8 million, state and federal data shows.

Other contenders have also received substantial support from unions at the national, state, and local levels. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Reps. Eric Swalwell (Calif.), Tim Ryan (Ohio), Washington governor Jay Inslee, and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio have all received at least $500,000 from the sector during their time in politics.

Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), Seth Moulton (Mass.), and former representative John Delaney (Md.) have been given between $250,000 and $500,000 over their careers. Former representative Beto O'Rourke (Texas), Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg have received between $50,000 and $200,000 from organized labor. Buttigieg's figures, however, do not include his mayoral races.

Nearly all of the Democrats seeking the nomination have provided solid returns on Big Labor's investment, according to the AFL-CIO's legislative scorecard. Harris and Booker are the only senators with a perfect lifetime scores, while Warren and Sanders enjoy 98 percent ratings topped off by perfect scores in 2017. Klobuchar received a 100 percent rating in 2017, raising her lifetime score to 95 percent. Bennet also enjoyed a boost by nabbing a perfect rating just prior to throwing his hat into the ring, raising his lifetime approval to 90 percent. Prior to being named vice president, then-senator Biden had an 86 percent lifetime rating.

Several House contenders saw their ratings dip in 2017, though every candidate continued to receive A averages from America's largest labor organization. Swalwell garnered a 95 percent rating on the year that brought his lifetime average down to 98 percent, while Ryan's 94 percent dropped him to 97 percent lifetime. Moulton's 97 percent lifetime rating was capped by a 95 in 2017. Gabbard's 92 dropped her to 96, while the same 2017 score brought O'Rourke lifetime score down to 94 percent. Delaney had the lowest mark among House members with a 91 career score, though he did score a 92 in 2017 before leaving office.

The Moulton campaign said it is dedicated to reviving unions, which have hemorrhaged members over the past 40 years. When asked about the congressman's relationship with organized labor, a spokesman directed the Washington Free Beacon to a June 27 tweet of Moulton with members of the politically powerful Service Employees International Union. The group's local chapters have championed Moulton during his political career, though the national union has yet to endorse a primary candidate.

"Unions make sure hard work pays off, but they have suffered from years of difficulty and decline," Moulton tweeted. "It is time we rebuild the institutions that built America."

None of the other campaigns returned Free Beacon requests for comment.