Big Labor Drops Big Dollars on Dems

12 of the 25 highest outside spenders on midterms are labor groups

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September 24, 2018

Big Labor is dropping big money on the 2018 elections despite their own rhetoric about outside spending.

Unions represent 12 of the top 25 largest outside spending organizations in the 2018 midterm elections. Two of the three highest institutional outside spenders are labor groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Carpenters and Joiners Union tops the list having spent $23.8 million on the midterm elections. Nearly all of that money has gone to aid Democratic congressional and Senate candidates, as conservatives benefited from only $612,500. Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) is the third largest with $11.1 million spent—$10.3 million has gone to aid Democratic candidates.

Neither the Carpenters nor Laborers returned Washington Free Beacon requests for comment.

Blue-collar union members helped deliver Donald Trump to the White House despite the labor movement's near-universal embrace of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The disconnect between the voting habits of union members and that of leadership led some high profile labor leaders to reconsider ties between the Democratic Party and labor groups. Carpenters union president Doug McCarron and LIUNA president Terry O'Sullivan both met President Trump during his opening days at the White House and praised him for his agenda on trade and infrastructure.

Trump has made a point of courting private-sector unions, especially in the construction trades where he built his own company. He boasted about his longstanding ties to the industry at the 2017 conference for North America's Building Trades Union—a collection of more than a dozen construction labor groups under the AFL-CIO umbrella. Despite his wooing, the Building Trades Union spent $42 million on the 2018 elections with $40 million going to aid Democratic candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Industrial unions spent $10,115,261 on the elections—only $2,745 has gone to conservative candidates or groups.

Republican candidates generally win about 40 percent of union households, but President Trump outperformed past GOP nominees among working class voters. Unions, however, have not changed their political spending habits and continue to direct nearly all of their political donations to Democrats and liberal candidates. Labor watchdog Richard Berman of the Center for Union Facts said the 2018 spending comes as no surprise, pointing to the estimated $1.3 billion labor groups have given to liberal causes and candidates between 2010 and 2017.

"For far too long unions have gotten away with using membership dues to advance a left-wing political agenda—without any prior approval from workers," Berman said. "Though the Court's recent decision in Janus has started to turn the tide on unapproved political spending for unionized government employees, private-sector employees are still subject to unions hijacking dues money for politics."

Outside spending has taken center stage in political finance since the Supreme Court began allowing limitless corporate and union involvement in federal races in its 2009 Citizens United ruling. Outside groups have already spent $342 million on the 2018 election as of September compared with the $222.5 million spent during the entire 2014 midterm election cycle.

The National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, Operating Engineers union, American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees, Communications Workers of America, United Steel Workers, American Federation of Government Employees, Service Employees International Union, United Food & Commercial Workers Union, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers were all among the 25 biggest spenders in campaign activity. Each union has criticized the Supreme Court for allowing greater outside spending and giving third party groups like companies and labor unions the ability to directly aid political campaigns. Only four unions gave any money to conservative candidates.

Only 1 of the 12 unions responded to requests for comment from the Washington Free Beacon about outside spending and broader questions about union political activities in the post-Trump world. A spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers said the union had complied with all disclosure laws but declined to elaborate on the nature or strategy behind its spending.