The News Without Transparency: Political Spending by Unions Far Exceeds Direct Donations

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The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Unions spend more money on politics than is commonly assumed. The article’s authors cite “a little known set of reports to the Labor Department” that require national and local unions to disclose their political spending.

The reports are never explicitly named in the article, but many financial documents are available to view on the Department of Labor’s website. Unfortunately, the labor department does not appear to provide for bulk data downloads, or make the files easy to save or share.

The reports have their origins in the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. The nascent transparency law, passed in 1959 as a response to labor union corruption, instituted financial reporting requirements on unions for the first time.

In 2005 the Department of Labor revised rules related to the LMRDA and required unions to disclose even more information. Notably, they now have to report the money that they spend on political activities and lobbying directly to the Department of Labor.

Like corporations, unions report money that they spend using their Political Action Committees to the Federal Election Commission. The FEC was created to enforce the Federal Election Campaign Act. It collects and regulates campaign finance information from candidates, PACs and political parties. Many outside organizations also track money in politics.

The DoL reports cover a much wider range of activity. For example, according to the Wall Street Journal unions now have to report their spending on everything from polling and voter contact “to bratwursts to feed Wisconsin workers protesting at the state capitol last year.”

The article’s authors posit that this previously unheralded spending could help labor provide a “stronger counterweight than commonly realized to ‘Super PACs’.” But, they acknowledge that corporations are not covered by any corresponding disclosure requirements.

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More entries in the News Without Transparency series can be seen at the brand new landing page Redacted.Sunlightfoundation.com

“The News Without Transparency” shows you what the news would look like without public access to information. Laws and regulations that force the government to make the data it has publicly available are absolutely vital, along with services that take that raw data and make it easy for reporters to write sentences like the ones we’ve redacted in the piece above. View the entire series here! If you have an article you’d like us to put through the redaction machine, please send us an email at rsibley@sunlightfoundation.com.

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