Clinton Surrogate: Unions Are Just ‘Super PACs That Democrats Like’

Dean had attacked Sanders for ‘double standard’ on labor unions

Howard Dean, Hillary Clinton
Howard Dean, Hillary Clinton / AP
February 9, 2016

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has received millions of dollars from labor unions that one of her surrogates described as "Super PACs that Democrats like."

Failed presidential candidate Howard Dean attacked insurgent socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., VT) on Friday for his criticism of Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street. Dean, a former Vermont governor and head of the Democratic National Committee, downplayed Sanders’ frequent claim that he relies on small donors, rather than Super PACs, for his support.

"Frankly, for Bernie to say he doesn’t have a Super PAC, labor unions are Super PACs," Dean told MSNBC on Friday. "Now, they’re Super PACs that Democrats like, so we don’t go after labor unions, but this is a double standard."

While Dean aimed his attack on unions at Sanders, labor organizations and their political action committees have donated far more money to Clinton than Sanders during the 2016 cycle.

Labor groups make up some of Clinton’s largest donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Public sector and construction unions have donated a combined $6 million to the campaign, as well as pro-Clinton Super PACs, making them two of the most generous industries in the country. The Operating Engineers, American Federation of Teachers, Carpenters, and Plumbers and Pipefitters unions have all contributed at least $1 million to support the former secretary of state’s quest for the White House.

Neither the unions, nor the Clinton campaign returned requests for comment about Dean’s comments.

Clinton sits at the top of fundraising in both parties with more than $163 million raised through the most recent reporting period. Sanders, her sole remaining rival for the Democratic nomination, has raised $75 million, good enough for fourth among all contenders.

The self-proclaimed socialist’s haul has come largely from smaller donors, rather than the big-ticket institutional donors fueling Clinton’s rise. More than 10,000 Sanders supporters have given donations between between $200 and $499, while just 29 have maxed out a contribution of $5,400; Clinton has about 10,000 smaller donors while bagging more than 630 maximum dollar donations.

Retirees are the only group that have given Sanders more than $1 million. None of Sanders’ top donors have given more than $100,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, though he has received about $11,000 from mailmen. The American Postal Workers Union endorsed him in November.

Labor watchdogs welcomed Dean’s concession about the nature of union donations. Richard Berman, executive director of the Center for Union Facts, said that labor groups have long used worker dues to finance political activities and lobbying. Those contributions often stand at odds with the political wishes of individual members.

"Howard Dean's recent admission confirms what we already know: Union bosses have operated as the ATM of the Democratic Party for decades," Berman said in an email. "Not only does the overwhelming majority of Big Labor's political spending budget finance the Left, but much of it comes from mandatory member dues—rank-and-file workers, about 40 percent of whom vote Republican."

The Sanders campaign did not respond to request for comment.