How much are unions really spending on politics?

posted at 9:13 pm on July 11, 2012 by Karl

Don’t get me wrong: The Wall Street Journal’s Tom McGinty and Brody Mullins performed a valuable public service in compiling the Department of Labor data showing that Big Labor spent $3.3 billion more on political activity than the $1.1 billion they reported to the Federal Election Commission and congress. However, their analysis appears to take the numbers for political spending listed by the unions at face value. You will be shocked, shocked to learn those numbers might not be rock solid.

For example, we could look at the most recent annual report filed by the National Education, one of the nation’s most politically active unions and the one whose political activities sparked the current rules of disclosure of union political spending. The NEA’s most recent LM-2 disclosure form (downloadble here) lists tens of millions of supposedly non-political grants paid to its affiliates for its UniServ program. UniServ helps affiliates pay for their labor negotiators and professional staffers — but UniServ directors also administer fund-raising solicitations for the NEA’s political action committee, organize selection of union delegates to party nominating conventions, and organize activities to support NEA-endorsed candidates during election campaigns. The notion that none of the tens of millions of UniServ dollars funneled by the national NEA seems like a bit of a stretch. This may not affect the WSJ calculations, because McGinty and Mullins followed the money down to the state level. But it does reveal a problem with the current reporting system and should be remembered the next time you hear union defenders brag about the transparency of the system. It’s only transparent if you do the extraordinarily tedious work of following all of the supposedly non-political money down to the affiliate level.

However, the WSJ analysis likely understates Big Labor’s indirect political spending. For example, as Rishawn Biddle noted at The American Spectator: “Between 2005-2006 and 2008-2009, the NEA has increased its donations to nonprofits by nearly a six-fold, from $4 million to $26 million.” If you are thinking that those nonprofits are generally Democratic Party client groups, you would be dead on. If you are thinking that the NEA does not always categorize this spending as political, you would be dead on.

Mike Antonucci (who also blogs in HotAir’s Greenroom on labor issues) has written about this issue. Two lesser-known groups he mentions as essentially NEA front groups — Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice and Communities for Quality Education — turn up in the NEA’s most recent LM-2 disclosure, collecting $250,000 and $1,000,000, respectively; neither is classified as political spending. Other names may be more familiar. For example, the NEA paid the Democracy Alliance $85,000 for program development the union classified as an administrative expense. They classified $100,000 paid to Media Matters for public relations as an administrative expense. They paid groups including (but not limited to) the NAACP ($25,000), the National Action Network ($20,000), National Jewish Democratic Council ($5,000), and People for the American Way ($125,000) “community public education grants” and classified them as administrative expenses.

Of course, it could be that the NEA has super-duper explanations for why all of this spending is non-political. After all, some of these groups are nominally supposed to be non-political (although much of the leftie complaining about rightie groups is that their tax-exempt groups are political). But no one is asking for explanations. A February 2012 report (.pdf) from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform notes:

In addition to weakening Form LM-2 reporting requirements, the Administration has quietly scaled back the Department of Labor’s ability to conduct effective financial oversight of labor organizations. In addition to a 35% voluntary reduction in its staffing allotment, the OLMS [Office of Labor-Management Standards] completely disbanded the Division of International Union Audits, “a division that had responsibility for auditing the largest labor organizations in the country,” some with more than $600 million in receipts.” These actions have had an immediate impact: on page 21 of its FY 2012 Congressional budget justification, OLMS flatly states that it plans to conduct “zero I-CAP audits in FY 2012.”

Yep, the Obama administration is declining to enforce laws it does not care for — another shocka. The House report further notes the administration “also completely eliminated Form T-1, which required unions to report the finances of trusts in which they were invested. These trusts constitute a major repository of union funds, and Form T-1 closed a major loophole in reporting requirements. That loophole is, once again, wide open.” That’s the nice way of putting it. Heritage has called these trusts “little more than slush funds available only to selected officials who use the money to pay for campaign activities like fund raisers, candidate literature and get-out-the-vote efforts.”

Again, the WSJ, McGinty and Mullins deserve plaudits for doing the job that most of the establishment media refuses to do. However, the potential for creative accounting in the current disclosure rules, the obstacles to getting a clear picture of union spending and the lack of enforcement of the current rules all deserve further attention from Congressional Republicans and future Republican administrations.

This post was promoted from GreenRoom to HotAir.com.
To see the comments on the original post, look here.


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Let them empty the bank while losing.

msupertas on July 11, 2012 at 9:18 PM

I never get first. Slackers.

msupertas on July 11, 2012 at 9:19 PM

Pictures of Obama are creepy at best and demonic.

Schadenfreude on July 11, 2012 at 9:19 PM

I’ve been in three unions.

I’m so glad I’m not in a union now.

Akzed on July 11, 2012 at 9:20 PM

When RUSH has a headline that states “CONDI for V.P.?” you know he’s trying to plant a seed.
I think it’s funny how some of you can’t stomach the thought of Condi and yet have no qualms about a huge government bureaucrat like Portman. At least Rice’s connection to Bush was only foreign policy related. Most importantly, she almost guarantees a win for Romney. Rubio aside, that makes her unique. Jindal would be a much better choice administratively, but if Condi can bring enough women and A.A. to beat Obama, I’m in.

AmeriCuda on July 11, 2012 at 9:20 PM

Feelin like the Omega man here.

msupertas on July 11, 2012 at 9:20 PM

“Lies, d*mned lies and statistics” come to mind.

chemman on July 11, 2012 at 9:20 PM

Which is why we need 50 Scott Walkers to govern every State, and turn off the union money spigot!!!

Steve Z on July 11, 2012 at 9:21 PM

Public unions are causing city bankruptcies…
If you were a bachelor and you had a nightly budget of $4.11 for dinner, you’d figure out how to make it work. Lets see, bread with a meat & cheese etc, chips, a [cheap] soda, ice cream, eat like a king. But instead lets say you call a couple of friends to go out to dinner at a fine restaurant, and you get drinks, appetizers, a 3 course meal, dessert. A pretty penny, and you are nice and volunteer to pay! That’s $190 with tip, and you decide just to go with an even number of $200, but later you realize… you can’t pay the rent.
Kind of like with the public unions. We didn’t need to volunteer to pay them ultra-high wages and pensions, but that was the good liberal nice thing to do. Now a lot of these cites are finding that they can’t pay the rent, so to speak. And further, you look at the typical city, and I think you could cut back to the virtual bone, like the $4.11 bachelor, you could find expedients to have police & fire work adequately, and a lot of other things just aren’t required. Do we need shiny big 400k fire engines (everyone was feeling groovy about that), and immaculate fancy white-washed fire stations all over the place, and people paid a fortune? No. Think of expedients. Get people to take more responsibility for putting out their own small fires, or saving their own cats. Utilize private industry fire suppression services. Same with police service. Get the job done, but don’t support a bunch of fat, or volunteer to bankroll the highlife for cops. And my libertarian side would say: much of police costs are spent on drug related victimless crimes; stick to keeping violence and crime from impacting our lives, forget about costly drug interdiction, especially when going to all that trouble and expense arguably doesn’t actually cut down the number of addicts (see Portugal example).
SO, a city could get by, if they really needed to, on virtually the $4.11 that the bachelor had for dinner. Let them start doing that.

anotherJoe on July 11, 2012 at 9:22 PM

How about this, any Union that doesn’t offer voluntary membership gets a 99% income tax.

Republicans would only need 51 Senators to pass. And the Roberts Court has basically given a green light to any action as long as it’s considered a tax.

Presto! Right to work in all 50 states!

BradTank on July 11, 2012 at 9:23 PM

Speaking of Rush, he called it. Democrat money laundering scheme. That’s why we need the PACS.

msupertas on July 11, 2012 at 9:24 PM

I never get first. Slackers.

msupertas on July 11, 2012 at 9:19 PM

When do you plan on starting?

Bishop on July 11, 2012 at 9:24 PM

Feelin like the Omega man here.

msupertas on July 11, 2012 at 9:20 PM

When do you plan on starting?

Bishop on July 11, 2012 at 9:24 PM

msupertas, I was going to ask if you felt like the “Running Man” but Bishop caught you before I could warn you to run.

chemman on July 11, 2012 at 9:28 PM

OLMS flatly states that it plans to conduct “zero I-CAP audits in FY 2012.”

How…….convenient. You’d think there was an election coming up.

GarandFan on July 11, 2012 at 9:32 PM

They’re spending about as much as Emperor Palpatine, er George Soros.

rayra on July 11, 2012 at 9:37 PM

Feelin like the Omega man here.

msupertas on July 11, 2012 at 9:20 PM

When do you plan on starting?

Bishop on July 11, 2012 at 9:24 PM

msupertas, I was going to ask if you felt like the “Running Man” but Bishop caught you before I could warn you to run.

chemman on July 11, 2012 at 9:28 PM

Lalalala, can’t hear you. Basking in the glory. LOL

msupertas on July 11, 2012 at 9:46 PM

How much are unions really spending on politics?

Aside from the Bosses’ take? As much as they can squeeze from the members.

minnesoter on July 11, 2012 at 9:48 PM

Perfect compromise would be to end all union and upper 1% procurement of our democracy. Easier said than done i guess.

Uppereastside on July 11, 2012 at 9:49 PM

I never get first. Slackers.

msupertas on July 11, 2012 at 9:19 PM

When do you plan on starting?

Bishop on July 11, 2012 at 9:24 PM

Crack me up. And it’s a union thread too.

SparkPlug on July 11, 2012 at 9:52 PM

The Obama administration is declining to enforce laws it does not care for

I’m shocked, shocked, I say.
Obviously under Obama we are no longer a nation of laws.

talkingpoints on July 11, 2012 at 10:02 PM

No employee subject to Civil Service should EVER be allowed collective bargaining power…..EVER!!! That is just plain brain-dead stupid!

Lew on July 11, 2012 at 10:11 PM

No employee subject to Civil Service should EVER be allowed collective bargaining power…..EVER!!! That is just plain brain-dead stupid!

Lew on July 11, 2012 at 10:11 PM

Yep, either that or they surrender their vote.

slickwillie2001 on July 11, 2012 at 10:18 PM

lack of enforcement of the current rules

I pledge servitude, to the Enslaved States of America, for which it stands, one Nation Under Executive Fiat, end of liberty, with no representation for all.

Varchild on July 11, 2012 at 10:31 PM

Well…How much is it when you completely disagree with their position??

RedCrow on July 11, 2012 at 10:54 PM

I’d say it’s a lot!

RedCrow on July 11, 2012 at 10:55 PM

…the Obama administration is declining to enforce laws it does not care for — another shocka.

I’m pretty certain all administrations do this as do state and local governments. And I also realize this may be slightly off topic, but it is one of the very reasons why anyone on a jury should always consider jury nullification. Especially in victim-less “crimes”. (How can there be a crime if there is not victim? And please, the law cannot be a victim by not being adjudicated. Yeah, a jury member tried that nonsense argument on me.)

woodNfish on July 11, 2012 at 11:41 PM

I never get first. Slackers.

msupertas on July 11, 2012 at 9:19 PM

When do you plan on starting?

Bishop on July 11, 2012 at 9:24 PM

Crack me up. And it’s a union thread too.

SparkPlug on July 11, 2012 at 9:52 PM

…*monitor*……”thanks for the cold drink bath…but it wasn’t really hot today!”

KOOLAID2 on July 11, 2012 at 11:52 PM

Nice work, Karl. This needs to get a lot more play. You’ve barely scratched the surface.

nukemhill on July 12, 2012 at 12:04 AM

Unions are stupidly wasting their memebers dues monies on politics when they should be buying the companies their members work for, thus making them ALL owners! Just look at the millions they’ve given the dems/libs just to insure they keep their collective bargaining which in essence prices them out of the market. But, if unions instead bought/invested in their members companies, it would be a win win! They could then protest against themselves, rofl!

soapyjeans on July 12, 2012 at 2:27 AM

This post is dramatically important. It illustrates the way that the Democratic party has been using the unions to launder political money.

In fact, the unions are a giant money-laundering operation for the Democratic party, and have been for about 80 years.

Remember this the next time you hear a Democrat holding forth about money corrupting the political process. If the Democrat in question is one of the ordinary sort, he may just be an ignorant dupe; but if he’s a more knowledgeable sort, he’s lying through his teeth. They know perfectly well that concerns about campaign finance are designed solely to limit Republican spending, and that the unions are going to continue to launder huge sums for them.

philwynk on July 12, 2012 at 1:59 PM

Unions are stupidly wasting their memebers dues monies on politics when they should be buying the companies their members work for, thus making them ALL owners!

soapyjeans on July 12, 2012 at 2:27 AM

You presuppose that the union leadership is actually interested in the profit of the members. They’re not. They’re interested in preserving and maximizing their own power, both within the union and in general. Running a company for profit (and for the benefit of the customer base) is absolutely the last thing on the planet they want to do.

philwynk on July 12, 2012 at 2:17 PM