SEIU in the crosshairs over Blago pay-for-play scandal

posted at 3:22 pm on December 11, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

How serious has this scandal tarnished the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the largest public-sector unions in the nation?  Badly enough to gain the notice of the New York Times.  Steven Greenhouse does a good job providing the background to the union connections in this scandal, and shows why the SEIU made sense as a deal-cutting go-between for Rod Blagojevich and Barack Obama:

The federal criminal complaint filed against Mr. Blagojevich said his chief of staff, John Harris, had suggested to a service employees’ official that the union should help make the governor the head of Change to Win, the federation of seven unions that broke away from the A.F.L.-C.I.O. The complaint said Mr. Blagojevich was seeking a position that paid $250,000 to $300,000 a year.

In exchange, the complaint strongly suggested, the service employees union and Change to Win would help persuade Mr. Blagojevich to name Valerie Jarrett, President-elect Barack Obama’s first choice, as the state’s new senator. And the union would get help from the Obama administration, presumably for its legislative agenda.

Jarrett was Obama’s choice for the Senate position, it should be noted.  Apparently Blagojevich didn’t get any promises of direct benefit from Team Obama at that time, as the complaint details Blagojevich’s profane frustration at only receiving “appreciation” from Obama.  The SEIU connection looks like a back-door way to push benefits to Blagojevich without fingerprints from the incoming Obama administration.

Perhaps, though, a few fingerprints might have been discovered.  Greenhouse notes that Patrick Gaspard had deep SEIU connections and now serves on Obama’s transition team.  Gaspard lobbied on health care issues, and Blagojevich thought he might get considered for a spot as HHS director in these wiretaps:

A senior service employees official who insisted on anonymity because prosecutors have asked union officials not to talk said his union was one of many that backed Mr. Blagojevich and has received favors from him. But he said that it was understandable that Mr. Blagojevich would ask the service employees for favor because it was so powerful and was seen as one of the unions closest to Mr. Obama.

Patrick Gaspard, the former political director of the service employees’ huge New York health-care affiliate, 1199, was political director of Mr. Obama’s campaign.

If Mr. Blagojevich was going to approach a union to help land a cushy job after leaving the Illinois governorship, it probably made sense for him to approach the service employees, the nation’s fastest growing union.

In fact, the SEIU was Blagojevich’s biggest donor in his two campaigns for the governorship.  The union also endorsed Obama early in the primaries, in February, when Hillary began to struggle.  With Gaspard on the team and the union holding some IOUs from Obama, a third-party deal would make perfect sense.

The question is whether that idea came solely from Blagojevich, or whether the SEIU originated or at least concurred in the process.  Obama would have gotten his preferred candidate in the Senate, the SEIU would have even more IOUs from both Blagojevich and Obama, and Blagojevich would have had his sinecure for a golden parachute out of Springfield.

Read the whole primer on the SEIU and its connections in this scandal; it’s a good piece of reporting.

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Y-not on December 11, 2008 at 3:26 PM

It just gets better and better by the minute. Just keep looking and digging up others.

letget on December 11, 2008 at 3:27 PM

Corruption? Yes We Can.

Dr.Cwac.Cwac on December 11, 2008 at 3:28 PM

Next skeleton, please.

Dr.Cwac.Cwac on December 11, 2008 at 3:28 PM

Card Check: Wiretaps for union elections.

Let’s caucus everything. “We’re tired of debating the same old stuff.”

gabriel sutherland on December 11, 2008 at 3:29 PM

I never thought I’d see this in the NYT!

Now if we can only get some people asking “why do all these Union donations go primarily to the Dems? Is that a legitimate Labor function?” on their way to the ballots….

cs89 on December 11, 2008 at 3:32 PM

The Obama campaign announced yesterday that Patrick Gaspard will be its new national political director. Gaspard, a New York labor official,was the national field director for America Coming Together during the 2004 cycle.

That year the Associated Press reported that ACT under Gaspard paid convicted felons to canvass homes and solicit private information (including Social Security numbers) from voters as part of its GOTV effort. The AP also noted that it is not illegal for felons to canvass, though they are not allowed to vote.


Topsecretk9 on December 11, 2008 at 3:32 PM

I feel like it’s the late 60s all over again. Is there a secret experimental lab buried somewhere beneath Chicago where they have cloned Richard Daly I and Jimmy Hoffa?

fogw on December 11, 2008 at 3:33 PM

It’d be nice if the Feds had to dismantle the SEIU

Iblis on December 11, 2008 at 3:37 PM

How serious has this scandal tarnished the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the largest public-sector unions in the nation? Badly enough to gain the notice of the New York Times.

Uh oh. Someone is not going to get their future bailout.


Dr.Cwac.Cwac on December 11, 2008 at 3:37 PM

It’d be nice if the Feds had to dismantle the SEIU

Iblis on December 11, 2008 at 3:37 PM

There should be enough for a RICO investigation.

Dr.Cwac.Cwac on December 11, 2008 at 3:37 PM

According to the New York Magazine “by 1997, the New Party had fizzled,” but it resurrected itself.

Then, it was a rump confederation of various liberal-leftish activists calling itself the New Party …Cantor hooked up with some other activists to try again. This time, they put their heads together, and I suppose did some polling, and decided they needed a name that delivered some idea of what they stood for (e.g., living wage, minimum wage, health care for poor people, federal dollars out of Washington). They amassed some institutional — that is, union — backing. They became the Working Families Party.

The Working Families Party likewise shares the 88 Third Street address. It’s basically become a New York “New Party” political party with a name they like better. From the IRS filing (which is in pdf format searchable on IRS website) of the ten “List of Officers, Directors and Highly Compensated Employees” we find:

Patrick Gaspard[SEUI}
Board Member 330 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036

Bertha Lewis [ACORN]
Co-Chair 88 Third Avenue 3rd Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Ed Vargas [coordinated the state’s Latinos for Obama group]
Board Member 1710 Broadway
New York, NY 10019 – 5299

Jon Kest [ACORN]
Board Member 88 Third Avenue 3rd Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Topsecretk9 on December 11, 2008 at 3:39 PM

Is this the same kind of reporting like ‘Joe the Plumber’?

Anyone, and anything, making The One look bad needs tearing down, even if it means one of their own (union)?

Sir Napsalot on December 11, 2008 at 3:40 PM

Public service unions should be illegal on the basis that they extort the public.

Count to 10 on December 11, 2008 at 3:43 PM

Change yes we can, to ‘yes we did’.

This whole Obama scandal is beginning to sound a lot like the Chicago version of “I did not have sexual relations with … “

tarpon on December 11, 2008 at 3:43 PM

The SEIU is a key part of the Democrat Machine. One of the reasons they want universal health care is that they represent hospital workers on a national scale. With the Government controlling and Health Care and the SEIU controlling democrats, they will have a nationwide trade union that will be able to tell elected officials what benefits, pay and privileges their workers will get.

rob verdi on December 11, 2008 at 4:11 PM

There’s also the little matter (not mentioned by the NYT) of SEIU’s connection to ACORN (remember those guys?):

According to the most recent Department of Labor [2007] financial disclosures, the ACORN-founded SEIU Local 880 in Illinois:

* Paid $191,820 in fees and expenses to Citizens Consulting, Inc. in New Orleans, a legal and lobbying firm run by ACORN founder Wade Rathke
* Paid another $31,745 to “CCI Legal”
* Paid $92,006 to “ILLINOIS ACORN WNB”
* Sent $181,366 to the Chicago Organizing Support Center (another stone in the ACORN pyramid)

Nichevo on December 11, 2008 at 4:30 PM

The SEIU often had a big contingent at the giant anti-war marches here in Washington, maybe several hundred marchers in purple shirts and signs with the SEIU logo. Didn’t know who they were at the time but figured they were another radical lefty group that ANSWER recruited to flesh out their protest. They seemed to be very loud and aggressive.

Tantor on December 11, 2008 at 4:44 PM

The federation’s president, Anna Burger, is the service employees’ secretary treasurer and receives only her S.E.I.U. salary.

Well, let’s see, using a non-VRWC site, NPR, we have a listing for Anna Burger in “Who’s Who: Key Leaders Of Independent Groups” —

ANNA BURGER: Secretary-treasurer at SEIU; chair of the Change to Win labor federation; former director of Fund for America; vice chair of Democracy Alliance; board member of America Votes; board member of They Work for Us; advisor to Progress Now; former member of leadership circle of Majority Action

Oh, and that “Fund for America” —, August 4, 2008 · Top Democratic donors and operatives set up Fund for America, a 527 group, in 2007 as a big pot of money for pro-Democrat organizations.

Its predecessors were America Coming Together, a voter-mobilization effort in 2004; the Media Fund in 2004; and the September Fund, a financing pool for pro-Democrat activities in 2006.

Originally aiming to bring in $100 million, the Fund raised $11 million as of April 2008. But it disbanded in June because it failed to meet its fundraising goals. The money it did raise came from some of the same top donors who contributed millions to opposing President Bush’s re-election bid in 2004.

The group, in turn, funded organizations such as Campaign to Defend America, America Votes,, Americans United for Change, ACORN, Center for American Progress Action Fund and Women’s Voices, Women Vote Action Fund, as well as Progress Now Action and a few of its affiliates.

The Fund’s address was the same as the Service Employees International Union’s Washington headquarters, and it reimbursed SEIU for staff and office expenses.

Funders: George Soros ($3.5 million); SEIU ($2.5 million); Steve Bing ($2.5 million); Donald Sussman ($1 million).

Leadership: John Podesta, Rob McKay, John Stocks, Anna Burger, Amy K. Dacey.

Hey, if SEIU had $2.5 mil to jumpstart Fund for America, surely they could afford to give poor Blago a job?

Nichevo on December 11, 2008 at 5:13 PM

Here in LA, the SEIU has a similar reputation:,0,1600346.story,0,1610895.story

The first article is about how top union officials live high on the hog and how they treat workers who complain, and the second is about featherbedding on the County payroll — with the collusion of the County, of course.

These are not nice people.

unclesmrgol on December 11, 2008 at 6:17 PM

can this get ANY better?!

/can’t believe i’m saying this — go fitz go!

Buckaroo on December 11, 2008 at 9:14 PM

There’s also the little matter (not mentioned by the NYT) of SEIU’s connection to ACORN (remember those guys?):

Wasn’t there a SEIU office in the same building as ACORN down in New Orleans? This came up during all the hub bub over ACORN during the election
See below:

Louisiana State Council, SEIU – 1024 Elysain Fields Ave
New Orleans, LA 70117

Local business results for 1024 Elysain Fields Ave near New Orleans, LA 70117
Acorn –
1024 Elysian Fields Ave, New Orleans – (504) 944-7078

Affiliated Media Foundation
1024 Elysian Fields Ave, New Orleans – (504) 943-5713
Directions and more »

Acorn National Call Center
1024 Elysian Fields Ave, New Orleans – (504) 943-0434
Directions and more »

Red State State of Mind on December 11, 2008 at 11:05 PM

It’d be nice if the Feds had to dismantle the SEIU

Iblis on December 11, 2008 at 3:37 PM
There should be enough for a RICO investigation.

Dr.Cwac.Cwac on December 11, 2008 at 3:37 PM

I mentioned the need for a RICO investigation the other day when the Blago arrest story broke. On one of the released tapes of the Illinois governer, he expressly said that he was looking for some kind of union sinecure.

The whole proposed legislation to enact card check had better be stopped pronto, or we will see further thug-controlled elections keeping Democrats in power. Any semblance of honest elections will be but a memory.

IIRC Wasn’t Hillary complaining about voting shenanigans by the Obama campaign in Nevada (not sure about the state) during the caucuses? Most of the voters were SEIU rank and file, working in the hotels and casinos. (Does anyone remember the complaint about wrong information being given to caucus members or of their being shut out of rooms?)

Later, during the national campaign Obama told McCain that McCain “didn’t know what he was up against”. Criminality through bribes, graft, and union coercion has poisoned our electoral system.

onlineanalyst on December 11, 2008 at 11:56 PM

From the Employment Policies Institute, 2006:

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now is a non-profit (but not federally tax-exempt) organization at the center of a vast web of groups run by long-time anti-corporate activist Wade Rathke and a handful of his closest allies. In total, the Employment Policies Institute has documented more than 75 organizations run by the Rathke/ACORN empire—almost all run out of one office at 1024 Elysian Fields in New Orleans….

To an observer from outside Louisiana, it’s sometimes difficult to tell where SEIU ends and ACORN begins. The union and the community organization seem to merge. The relationship is easier to understand when one learns that Wade Rathke, who founded the New Orleans ACORN chapter 30 years ago, is also the chief organizer of SEIU local 100. The two are fraternal, not identical, twins.

Rathke has since stepped down from the leadership of national ACORN due to the embezzlement, and subsequent cover-up, of $950K by his brother, Dale Rathke, but he continues to serve as the chief organizer of the NO SEIU.

Some interesting speculation here of the possibility that the missing funds were used for Obama’s failed 2000 Congressional campaign, and that the $832K paid to an ACORN affiliate by Obama in the recent campaign may be a repayment of those funds.

Nichevo on December 12, 2008 at 6:49 AM