Labor unions biggest
political spenders

By WND Staff

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Ever heard of “Big Business”? How about “Big Oil” or “Big Pharmaceuticals”? Maybe you are more familiar with “Big American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union”? It may not slide off the tongue too eloquently or fit nicely into a contrived campaign sound bite, but a new report discloses the labor union has been the single largest contributor to federal elections since the 1989-90 election.

In fact, six of the 10 largest donors identified by the Center for Responsive Politics report are labor unions, not business groups or oil companies. The report, Influence Inc., examined contributions made to the two parties since the 1989-90 election cycle, including those donations from individuals, political action committees and soft-money donations to the party committees.

According to the report, the majority of money was directed to the party committees in the form of soft-money contributions. Those donations will be prohibited when the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law takes effect on Nov. 6.

How long they remain barred is dependent upon the outcome of lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the law. Hard-money donations ? known to those outside political Washington as unlimited contributions from individuals ? would be permitted under the law. State law would continue to determine which donations are permissible to state parties and campaigns.

While the report exhaustively documents the money donated to campaigns, it does not include funds, such as union dues, which are used for get-out-the-vote efforts. Earlier this year, the House Education and the Workforce Committee examined means to bring greater disclosure and accountability to unions, but strong opposition in the Senate and a constrained legislative calendar stymied the effort.

Perceptions voters have of money pouring into Capitol Hill coffers may be reinforced by the report, while others are challenged. For instance, is all of the money streaming from the heavily lined pockets of the right-wing conspiracy? Well, by a 2-to-1 margin, it is coming from the left.

And if anyone were befuddled by the comments made by full-time Hollywood actors, who play part-time policymakers in real life, a simple examination of where their money is directed should clear up any confusion. For instance, between 2000 and 2002, Barbra Streisand made almost 50 donations amounting to nearly $100,000 to Democratic candidates and groups.

According to the report, the top five ideological donors in each cycle steered their contributions to Democrats, not Republicans. Of the $40,392,190 donated by ideologically inspired interest groups since the 1989-1990 cycle, 68 percent filled Democratic coffers, while 32 percent backed the GOP.

Furthermore, the notion of Republicans as “tools of Big Business” is refuted by the numbers over the last decade. Not surprisingly, the money tended to follow the party in control, the report contends.

“While Democrats carried home a slight majority of business contributions in the first three election cycles of this study, their fortunes dropped abruptly after the 1994 elections, when they lost control of both the House and Senate. In contrast to labor and ideological groups, business donors tend to be consummate pragmatists whose foremost interest is in maintaining good relations with whichever party is in control,” the report stated.

The following are the top ten donors, according to data gathered by the Center for Responsive Politics. The figures include donations made to date in the 2001-2002 election cycle.

  1. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees: $30,671,426 (98 percent to Democrats);

  2. National Education Association: more than $21 million (95 percent to Democrats);

  3. National Association of Realtors: $20,414,385 (47 percent to Democrats; 53 percent to Republicans);

  4. Association of Trial Lawyers of America: nearly $20 million (88 percent to Democrats);

  5. Philip Morris: at least $18.9 million (75 percent to Republicans);

  6. International Brotherhood of Teamsters: Of the total $18,858,733, Republicans garnered only $1,197,737, or 6 percent. It is notable, however, that this election cycle marks the first year Republicans have receipts from the Teamsters that have reached into the double-digits. So far this cycle, the ratio breaks down 83 to 17 percent.

  7. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers: $18,394,547 (98 percent to Democrats);

  8. American Medical Association: $18,377,814 (59 percent to Republicans; 41 percent to Democrats);

  9. Service Employees International Union: $17,647,346 (97 percent to Democrats);

  10. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) is one union clearly in the Democrats’ camp. Since 1989-90, CWA has given $17,597,372, only $49,775 of which was donated to the GOP. Except for 2000 ($19,050 to Republicans), 1992 ($8,900) and 1990 ($4,025), the union has given solely to the Democratic Party, with a greater majority each year coming from soft-money donations.

As mind-boggling as the numbers may be, interest groups that quickly seize on the figures as exemplifying the “buying” or “purchasing” of national elections ignore the myriad of other influences. From personal experience or relationships, to ideological beliefs, a number of factors play a role in the decisions made by members of Congress. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the chicken and egg question has not clearly been answered: Do interest-group contributions determine how a member votes, or do congressional voting patterns determine to whom interest groups contribute?

The odds this question is answered any time soon are about as solid as the odds a new campaign-finance law will rein in influence-peddlers or contain the amounts of money poured into campaigns and political parties. The one indisputable fact is that the best remedy for holding politicians accountable remains the individual voters casting ballots every two years.

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