Bernie Sanders can often be heard on the campaign trail decrying the role of money in politics. Sanders has stated many times he does not have a super PAC, and even dedicated a page on his website entitled “I don’t have a super PAC.” But it seems he's getting super PAC support — whether he wants it or not.
National Nurses United endorsed Sanders on Aug. 11, and to date the group's affiliated super PAC has spent a little more than $569,000 in support of him. The spending ranges from print and online ads to printing materials, with significant buys in key states like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. As of the last super PAC filing on June 30, the group had about $250,000 cash on hand.
National Nurses United for Patient Protection is a super PAC whose primary donor is National Nurses United, a union of more than 185,000 registered nurses across all 50 states. The super PAC also has another donor from its filing earlier this year, a 527 group called Progressive Kick, which runs donor-matching programs for progressive causes.
Using our Real-Time Federal Campaign Finance tracker, we were able to search all of the group's independent expenditures filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Currently, super PACs only have to file reports with the FEC every six months in off years. This increases to quarterly or monthly during the election year. Following these types of expenditures, which are generally reported to the FEC within 48 hours, is one of the ways Sunlight tracks the flow of money out of super PACs and other outside groups.
It is certainly no secret that this group has proudly endorsed Sanders for president. Sanders filmed a video for the group, thanking its 185,000 members for supporting his candidacy. This vote of confidence is viewed as a political win for Sanders as it's his first endorsement from a powerful union.
This is nothing new for Nurses United. According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, in the 2014 elections the super PAC spent $2.3 million, however none of these were on independent expenditures. The group's spending mostly consisted of a $1.5 million disbursement to Progressive Kick. The super PAC only spent a little over $500,000 in 2012. The union and its affiliated super PAC are transparent about their goals, advocating for Medicare spending and improved workers' rights.
It is true Sanders does not have an affiliated super PAC run by former aides. In a world where court rulings have allowed these groups to thrive, super PACs have become a very common tool used by unions and similar groups that could align with Sanders to spend money on elections.
This is the first of many big spending campaigns by unions in favor of Democratic candidates. Sanders received an endorsement from the Postal Workers union, and just this week the SEIU endorsed Hillary Clinton, which is sure to come with a boost of grassroots and financial support.
Overall, the spending by Nurses United is relatively modest in nature compared to the other big spending super PACs; the pro-Jeb Bush Right to Rise USA has doled out $31 million so far in independent expenditures.