Big Labor's Big Mistake in the 2010 Elections

They’ve pulled the rug out from under President Obama.

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“As the political season heats up, Americans are already being inundated with the usual phone calls, mailings, and TV ads from campaigns all across the country. But this summer, they’re also seeing a flood of attack ads run by shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names. We don’t know who’s behind these ads and we don’t know who’s paying for them,” the president said in his weekly address a few weeks ago, complaining about the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case. That case allowed corporations and unions to use their own funds to pay for political ads. The Democrats have been screaming about the “floodgates” opening on corporate money ever since, but there hasn’t been a peep about the unions. Until now.

Here’s one of those harmless-sounding names the president probably was not referring to: the Patriot Majority. The top donor to the Patriot Majority, which is funding ads for Democratic candidates such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid--as well being the top donor to the Democratic Governors Association and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee--is the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME. They’re the biggest union of government workers in the United States.

[See where else Reid gets his campaign money.]

In fact, AFSCME just became the single biggest outside spender of the 2010 election cycle, spending a total of $87.5 million so far--and this was after the union took out a $2 million loan to fund more money on television ads and mailings in the wake of the Citizens United ruling, according to today’s Wall Street Journal. (BTW, what bank is approving loans of that size these days to buy TV ads?) 

It’s Big Labor’s Big Mistake going into the Big Midterms. The union’s mistake was that it has gotten out in front of the Chamber of Commerce when it comes to spending on the election. If you take a look at the top five outside spenders on candidates running in the midterms, you’ll see that the National Education Association (the teachers union) and the Service Employees International Union (second largest after AFSCME in terms of public employees, also has a lot of healthcare workers) have spent a combined total with AFSCME of $171.5 million. Big Labor has now outspent the two biggest boogeymen on the right--the Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads, who have spent a combined total of $140 million.

The reason for all the spending, according to AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, is that "a lot of people are attacking public-sector workers as the problem ... We're spending big. And we're damn happy it's big. And our members are damn happy it's big—it's their money," he said.

[Read Mort Zuckerman: Public Sector Workers Are the new Privileged Elite Class]

Not exactly. Because mandatory union dues are taken out of union workers’ government payroll checks, and those payroll checks are paid for by taxpayers, it’s our money, too. And it’s an average of $390 per union member in mandatory dues that they never see in their government paycheck. It comes right out through the payroll system. (Maybe a union member will run for governor of New York on “The Dues Are Too Damn High” platform.)

After trillions in government spending to increase the size and scope of government, AFSCME's membership has grown 25 percent in the past decade. Here’s a quote that says volumes, from Larry Scanlon, head of AFSCME’s political operations: "The more members coming in, the more dues coming in, the more money we have for politics.” In an era when Less is More, they think the Bigger the Government, the Better.

Quotes like that show why Big Labor is making such a big mistake. By outspending everyone else, they’ve pulled the rug out from under the president’s strategy of attacking the “stampede” of outside spending by “shadowy” interest groups. At the same time, they’ve highlighted their out-of-touch agenda of bigger government and resistance to reform by bragging about their increasing membership and how “damn happy” they are to be spending big amounts of taxpayer money. No wonder support for unions, along with the candidates they support, is at an all-time low.

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