Government Unions, Not Chamber, Top Spender

The biggest outside spender in 2010 isn't the Chamber of Commerce but the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The Obama administration has made sure that we all know that the Republican-leaning Chamber of Commerce is putting big bucks into this election campaign.   But, as Brody Mullins and John McKinnon point out at WSJ, the biggest spenders, by far, are labor unions.  And the biggest single spender is not the Chamber but the union representing government employees.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is now the biggest outside spender of the 2010 elections, thanks to an 11th-hour effort to boost Democrats that has vaulted the public-sector union ahead of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and a flock of new Republican groups in campaign spending.

The 1.6 million-member AFSCME is spending a total of $87.5 million on the elections after tapping into a $16 million emergency account to help fortify the Democrats’ hold on Congress. Last week, AFSCME dug deeper, taking out a $2 million loan to fund its push. The group is spending money on television advertisements, phone calls, campaign mailings and other political efforts, helped by a Supreme Court decision that loosened restrictions on campaign spending.

“We’re the big dog,” said Larry Scanlon, the head of AFSCME’s political operations. “But we don’t like to brag.”

No doubt.

And, uncharacteristically, WSJ is underselling the trend.  The true figure for public employee union spending is at least $171.5 million, since SEIU and NEA surely count.  And those are just organizations in the top 5.

It’s a bizarre cycle, really.  Government is far and away the biggest employer in this country.  And that makes government employees the largest and most motivated voting block.  While government’s role in most of our lives is somewhat hidden, it’s these people’s livelihood.  As distasteful as people might find big business getting together to engage in rent seeking, it’s much better than people who make their living off the taxpayer working to elect people who will keep shoveling money their way.

While there’s something to the myth of the government bureaucrat getting paid for doing next to nothing, their number includes members of the armed forces, foreign service, intelligence community, teachers, and others who do vital and important work.   My dad drew a DoD paycheck most of his working life and I’ve worked for the military and state universities.  And, surely, these people have every right to vote and to organize to elect candidates who will work to enact their views into public policy.

But there is nonetheless something unsettling about having our employees organizing to extract more money from us.

via Taegan Goddard

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, Economics and Business
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Vast Variety says:

    And regardless of if its a government labor union, the US Chamber of Commerce, or the National Organization for Marriage; they should all be required to disclosure who is giving them money.

  2. James Joyner says:

    While I tend to agree instinctively, I’m not sure that there’s an intellectually viable argument for that position. We do, after all, have the norm of a secret ballot. Isn’t that invalidated when your donations are public record?

    For that matter, if money is speech — and the Supreme Court says it is — then why can’t speech be anonymous?

  3. sam says:

    And, anyway, it doesn’t appear as if it can remain all that anonymous:

    Top Corporations Aid U.S. Chamber of Commerce Campaign

    Big Gifts to G.O.P. Groups Push Donor to New Level

  4. john personna says:

    This is why transparency is good. The unions, or the chambers, can spend their monies … but they should also expect some opposite reaction to their monies. It would be nice if the reaction was equal and opposite, but voters may not be that aware.

  5. Tano says:

    “While there’s something to the myth of the government bureaucrat getting paid for doing next to nothing,”

    What “something” is there to this myth? It is a lot of hogwash, and you know it.

    ” their number includes members of the armed forces, foreign service, intelligence community, teachers, and others who do vital and important work.”

    I.e. – there are actually people like me there, so it can’t be too bad.

    This is really offensive. People who work doing all the necessary administrative functions of a huge, modern nation are overwhelmingly hard-working, honest people, every bit as deserving of honor and respect as members of the armed forces, foreign service, intelligence community or others who also do vital and important work.

    My own father, a very conservative Republican, had a long and distinguished career in one of the federal agencies attending to the social needs in this country. He certainly had his occasional story of the lazy incompetent, just like he had such stories about his time in the military, but he always would defend the great majority of his colleagues from cheap shots of this type.

  6. Herb says:

    Interesting…and strikes me as something that should have been obvious, looking back.

    But one quibble…I’m not so sure the unions are supporting Democrats to “extract more money from us.” That seems like an oversimplification that leaves out umpteen other factors.

  7. James Joyner says:

    What “something” is there to this myth? It is a lot of hogwash, and you know it.

    Because of tenure policies that make it virtually impossible to fire anyone, there’s simply a much greater percentage of deadwood in government bureaucracies than in the private sector. But I’d say that 70 percent of federal employees (I simply don’t have much knowledge of the state and local sector, aside from the annoyances of DMV) work as hard as most non-government workers. And there’s a large corps that are incredibly dedicated — working lots of overtime without compensation just to get the job done.

    This is really offensive. People who work doing all the necessary administrative functions of a huge, modern nation are overwhelmingly hard-working, honest people, every bit as deserving of honor and respect as members of the armed forces, foreign service, intelligence community or others who also do vital and important work.

    Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say “every bit as deserving.” Or even to say that all of the positions and agencies are “necessary.” But the point of singling out those who work in the national security sector is that they’re often missed by opponents of “big government.”

  8. jpe says:

    Do those figures include the PAC spending by the unions, or is it just the corporate funds? If we’re looking at the impact of Citizens United, we’d want to include just the former and exclude the latter.

  9. Tano says:

    “But I’d say that 70 percent of federal employees… work as hard as most non-government workers. ”

    70%? Thats insane. Where do you get such numbers?

    And have you no experience whatsoever in the private sector? You really think government workers are ANY less prone to goofing off, or laziness or incompetence than private sector workers? What planet do you live on?

    Try to consult the real world when considering this issue, not just ideological theory, or stereotypical ranting tropes.

  10. […] The Big Dog . . . . . . but we don’t like to brag” says the head of public employee union AFSCME upon learning that his union is now the biggest […]

  11. Vast Variety says:

    There is a difference between casting your own ballot and trying to influence how other people cast theirs. If someone is trying to get me to vote a particular way don’t I have right to know who that person is so I can use it as a guide in determining the credibility of them and their message?

  12. LaurenceB says:

    I’m probably reading something wrong, but coincidentally the NYTimes has a front page chart today that seems to contradict the headline of this blog post. I’m sure the difference is in the details and I didn’t care enough to take the time to sit down and sift them out, but I just thought I’d mention it.

  13. Tano says:

    The link to the article that LaurenceB mentions:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/22/us/politics/22chamber.html?hpw

  14. James Joyner says:

    @LaurenceB and @Tano:

    Thanks for the link. I’ve just skimmed the first of the five pages but it seems to me that all of the money reported here is just Chamber money. That it, these contributions should be counted in the Chamber total above.

  15. Bill says:
  16. Tano says:

    Yes – someone with the time to do so, please parse out the differences between these two stories. They seem to be using radically different numbers. One thing I noticed was that the NYT numbers seem to be for federal races, and the WSJ numbers do not seem to be qualified, so maybe they include spending at the state level too. But I don’t have the time to study the articles to suss this out, so it would be good if someone can…

  17. Tea Partier says:

    Can anyone explain the purpose of a union of government employees?

    It can only have one purpose, to hold the American public hostage to public employees until they bilk us for whatever they want. That is, OUR GOVERNMENT employees blackmailing the citizens for money.

    it should be criminal.

  18. An Interested Party says:

    Why shouldn’t government employees not be allowed to form unions if they so choose? If you think that the purpose of a union is to “bilk” and “blackmail” others…well, your pseudonym is “Tea Partier”…