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Web of union giving

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Graph of union giving

To view a larger version, click here or the image.

Deep-pocketed corporate moguls have captured most of the headlines this year when it comes to creative campaign giving, but the working class is showing it can play the same game.

The Supreme Court's landmark 2010 decision in Citizens United gave unions, as well as corporations, the right to spend money directly from their treasuries to influence elections. An examination of independent expenditures by labor unions, captured by Sunlight's Follow the Unlimited Money, reveals an interlocking web of donations to a plethora of super PACs, some of them clearly affiliated with the labor movement and others with vaguer sounding names. This is traditionally the time of year when unions emerge as major players in campaigns, as much of their money and manpower is usually devoted to get-out-the-vote efforts for their preferred candidates, generally Democrats.

To create the above graphic, Sunlight examined the records of four big labor organizations with long histories of political giving: The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the AFL-CIO and the National Education Association (NEA). 

Some of the more interesting relationships the diagram shows:

  • AFSCME has given nearly $1 million to the super PAC Workers' Voice, founded by the big union umbrella organization -- and AFSCME's parent -- the AFL-CIO. In the first two weeks of October, the union gave another $471,254 to the super PAC.
  • The NEA has underwritten a massive campaign warchest but as of Friday had most of its money still left to spend, having made only relatively modest expenditures in congressional races.
  • Both AFSCME and the SEIU have given to Working for Us, a super PAC run by longtime labor strategist Steve Rosenthal. The super PAC has been helping Democrats in several House races and the Connecticut Senate race.
  • SEIU's super PAC has given nearly $6 million to Florida Freedom PAC, which has been working to help Democratic candidates in three House races, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and President Barack Obama in the political battleground state. The total contribution includes the October dump of $2.2 million into this super PAC.
  • Both AFSCME and SEIU have given a combined $1.25 million to Majority PAC, a super PAC that's helping to elect Democratic Senate candidates.
  • In October, AFSCME and SEIU also joined forces to back the Sierra Club Independent Action, which has also been involved in several congressional and Senate races. 
  • AFSCME also teamed up with NEA to fund Moving Ohio Forward, a new super PAC that popped up in September. Recent filings show that this unlimited money group has been spending its money on research and consulting activities. 
  • All four unions have contributed thousands to American Bridge 21st Century, a super PAC founded by David Brock, a conservative turned liberal activist who founded media watchdog Media Matters. AFSCME contributed the most with $575,000.

The above figures represented union giving as of Friday. 

(Illustration by Kat Lucero and Amy Cesal)