Just four months after the AFL-CIO announced the formation of its super PAC, Workers' Voice, the group has emerged as a major force, ranking No. 10 among super PACs in terms of money collected as of the end of July, with more than $7 million already spent, and the backing of the House of Labor's treasury.
However, the union super PAC weathered a major disappointment in its first outing: It was formed as part of an unsuccessful effort to unseat Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wisc., in a June 2012 recall election.
Since its inception, Workers’ Voice has branded itself the super PAC of the working class.
“For too long our political process has been dominated by too much money, and too much power, concentrated in the hands of too few,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a press release. “That is why Workers’ Voice was created — to build an independent voice for the working and middle class who are the 99 percent.”
Critics of the group point out that Workers’ Voice has benefited from the same Citizens United decision which it is actively seeking to overturn. Citizens United and subsequent rulings opened the door for groups like Workers’ Voice to spend unlimited amounts of union money in support of Obama’s reelection and other items on organized labor's agenda.
Workers’ Voice, however, set itself apart from other Super PACs with a program unveiled just weeks after the PAC’s formation that gives union and non-union members a direct say in how the group spends a portion of their money. The program, designed to encourage political engagement and voter turnout among workers, enables participants in political campaigns–those who volunteer to work the phones on behalf of a candidate, register new voters, or help people get to the polls on election day–to have a say in how the Workers’ Voice super PAC spends its money.
Donors to the super PAC might have some say too. Eddie Vale, the super PAC's spokesman, told the Huffington Post that, "If you wanted to make a $50,000 contribution to drive X number of phone calls on behalf of a candidate you like or against a candidate that you hate, you can do that," though the price tag would seem to be out of reach of most rank and file union members.
The majority of the group’s funding (a little more than $2 million) has come from the AFL-CIO, while the American Federation of Teachers and UNITE HERE have each donated $1 million, and a handful of other industrial unions such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have contribute half a million each, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Workers’ Voice’s July quarterly FEC filing, the most recent available, disclosed more that $1 million dollars in spending since April 1–most of contributions to other groups, including the Campaign for Arizona's Future PAC, the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO and Voters First in Ohio. The group’s independent expenditures to date have been minimal, with just under $2,500 spent in support of Rep. Mark Critz, D-Pa., since April.
Earlier campaign activity by the group included an attack ad on Senate candidate Josh Mandel, R-Ohio, over allegations that some contributions to his campaign were from "straw man" donors–people supplied with money from another to give to a candidate, a violation of campaign finance laws. Politifact criticized the ad, on premises of inaccuracy.
Workers’ Voice was initially formed as a lobbyist registrant PAC in 2010.