While the newly expanded financial power of individual donors is the topic du jour, super PACs backed by corporations and labor unions have been writing six- and seven-figure checks for years — and this torrent of outside campaign cash isn't likely to stop flowing any time soon. Case in point: the recent $200,000 spending blitz from the Defending Main Street Super PAC in Idaho's 2nd Congressional District.
Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican now in his 16th year as a member of Congress, faces a challenge from the right: Bryan Smith, a lawyer and small business owner who has the backing of conservative groups like Club for Growth and FreedomWorks.
While there's nothing novel about a Republican super PAC spending to protect an embattled incumbent, a look at Defending Main Street's campaign finance disclosures reveals some unexpected contributors. As the Daily Caller reported in February, labor unions accounted have accounted for nearly all of the group's funding since the beginning of 2013, or $765,000 of the super PAC's $845,000 in receipts.
In the past month alone, the political committee made two $100,000 contributions supporting Simpson. All of this money went toward the designing, purchasing and printing of door hangers, the committee's executive director and treasurer, Sarah Chamberlain, told Sunlight in an interview. The committee's report of its expenditures shows that James S. Nathanson Associates of Dayton, Ohio was the payee.
Defending Main Street was founded by former Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, to protect incumbent Republicans facing Tea Party primaries. LaTourette — who is also the president and CEO of the advocacy group Republican Main Street Partnership — told the National Journal last October that the PAC hoped to raise more than $8 million dollars, and that defending Simpson's seat in Idaho's 2nd Congressional District was priority number one.
None of the unions involved have so far returned Sunlight calls for comment on why their support, via Defending Main Street, for the Idaho Republican — this post will be updated if they do. But a number of Defending Main Street's labor benefactors are active backers of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. So is Simpson.
Not only is the congressman a vocal supporter of the pipeline, but Simpson is in a position to help: A member of the House Appropriations Committee, he chairs the of powerful panel's subcommittee on energy and water development.
In recent days, the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) — a construction workers' union — has been pushing out one TV ad after another supporting the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. In 2012, the builders' union left the Blue Green Alliance over environmental groups' opposition to the oil pipeline. "We’re repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women," the union said in a statementat the time.
LIUNA's political committee contributed $150,000 to Defending Main Street in November of last year.
Two of Defending Main Street's other major benefactors are also Keystone boosters. The International Union of Operating Engineers and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners have both released public statements supporting the pipeline, touting its potential for job creation. The groups each gave $250,000 to Defending Main Street.