Changing election laws have also altered the political balance of power, giving corporations and GOP-friendly activist groups new access to unregulated money in the wake of last year’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. Pro-GOP outside groups such as American Crossroads spent heavily in the 2010 election, helping put Republicans back in power in the House. In 2012, American Crossroads and its nonprofit affiliate plan to spend $240 million; the group’s organizers argue that they are leveling a playing field that’s been tilted toward unions.
“There’s no question the 2010 election was devastating and disappointing for” the AFL-CIO, Lee said. Labor unions objected to the Citizens United ruling, she said, but added: “We have to play with the rules that are in front of us now. And that means we will be taking advantage of the broader playground that is now available.”
In Ohio, the AFL-CIO has joined other leading unions, including the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, in fighting to overturn the collective bargaining law. Business organizers have mounted a counter-effort, around the slogan “Building a Better Ohio,” with local chambers of commerce and other business groups. Total spending by both sides is expected to top $20 million, the New York Times predicted.
A labor win in Ohio could discourage other GOP governors from wading into collective bargaining fights, DiSalvo said. Even if labor organizers lose on Issue 2, the Ohio initiative has suited them up for battle in a state regarded as pivotal to the 2012 presidential contest, he noted. “They have had to create a real grass-roots, on-the-ground network that I’m sure labor and the Democrats will hope that they can sustain over the next 12 months as a campaign or electoral vehicle,” DiSalvo added.