AFL-CIO Pulling Funds From Obama Campaign

AFL-CIO says it is redeploying funds from political candidates to infrastructure

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Protesters gather outside the hotel where Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks to the Texas Public Policy Foundation's 10th Annual Policy Orientation of the Texas Legislature, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012, in Austin, Texas.

The AFL-CIO has told Washington Whispers it will redeploy funds away from political candidates smack dab in the middle of election season, the latest sign that the largest federation of unions in the country could be becoming increasingly disillusioned with President Obama.

The federation says the shift has been in the works for months, and had nothing to do with the president's failure to show in Wisconsin last week, where labor unions led a failed recall election of Governor Scott Walker.

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"We wanted to start investing our funds in our own infrastructure and advocacy," AFL-CIO spokesman Josh Goldstein told Whispers. "There will be less contributions to candidates," including President Obama.

While there were "a lot of different opinions" about whether Obama should have gone to Wisconsin, according to Goldstein, "this is not a slight at the president."

The AFL-CIO has been at odds with the president before Wisconsin on issues such as the public health insurance option and renewing the Bush tax cuts.

The shift in funding is significant due to the federation's role in past presidential campaigns, where the AFL-CIO built up a massive political structure in the months leading up the election, including extensive "Get Out The Vote" efforts, as well as financial contributions.

This time around, Goldstein says, the federation wants to build a more long-lasting structure, giving "different kinds of support to different candidates."

And that may mean more politically independent candidates.

In a May speech at the National Press Club, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka threatened to reduce support for the Democratic party and launch "an independent labor movement" if Democrats didn't more fully support the union agenda.

"We will change the way we spend, the way we do things and the way we function that creates power for workers," Trumka said, according to the Associated Press.

AFL-CIO donated $1.2 million to Democrats in 2008, and $900,000 in 2010, according to the Christian Post. It is unclear how much will be donated in 2012.

In April, the Huffington Post reported that Workers' Voice, the super PAC arm of the AFL-CIO, was also changing its funding structure.

In an "unprecedented" move for organized labor, Workers' Voice gave control of its $4.1 million in funds over to both union and non-union members who participate in campaign activities, including phone banking or canvassing.

On its website, Workers' Voice promises: "Make phone calls, knock on doors... and you'll earn the ability to direct dollars towards... your local or federal candidate of choice."

Come fall, that choice may or may not be Obama.

Update, 1:55 p.m.:

Goldstein clarifies that in the new deployment of funds, "Some candidates will get more, some less, some the same -- but overall we'll be focused more on spending resources to build our own structure [that] works for working people instead of others' own structures."

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.