The four top super PACs backing Democrats — Priorities USA Action, Majority PAC, House Majority PAC and American Bridge 21st Century — have collected almost $20 million from labor unions this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics and Federal Election Commission reports. Last month alone, those four super PACs collected almost $6 million from a long list of unions.
The SEIU’s Committee on Political Education collected $20.3 million in 2011 from 300,000 members, a 30 percent increase over 2008, organizers say. The SEIU plans to mobilize thousands of volunteers in eight battleground states between now and Election Day, including knocking on 550,000 doors in Ohio alone. The AFL-CIO has mobilized 400,000 volunteers on the ground.
“We knew we were facing an opposition that was more funded than in a generation and that this election was going to come down to turnout,” SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry said. The 2.1 million-member SEIU ramped up its ground operations and launched them earlier because of “the flood of communication and money from the other side,” she added.
Big labor spending on campaigns tends to go unreported, conservatives said, because much of it takes the form of member-to-member contacts that are not publicly disclosed to the FEC. Last year, the Wall Street Journal combed through union expenditures reported to the Labor Department to conclude that such spending from 2005 to 2011 totaled $4.4 billion.
“Looking at the most recent elections, unions represented the largest-spending groups in campaigns,” American Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio said.
Labor leaders dispute the Journal’s estimate, arguing that it counts all lobbying activities as election-related and double-counts expenditures. Even some conservatives acknowledge that Citizens United has changed the math for unions, already buffeted by declining membership and collective bargaining fights in states around the country.
The point isn’t how much unions spend, Meyer said, but how they spend it. On that score, he maintained, unions are still way ahead.
“As far as the ground game goes, we’re not competing with the left yet — we’re not even close,” Meyer said. But conservatives are quickly catching up.