PAC Receipts Are Soaring

Unions, Companies Reel In Hard Money

Posted February 27, 2004 at 5:23pm

Labor unions have doubled their hard-dollar fundraising committees over the past four years while the largest U.S. corporate givers have boosted their political action committees by one-third, according to new fundraising data.

Unions and corporations, who are trying to influence elections as well as the legislative process in Congress, were expected to ramp up their hard-dollar fundraising operations in the years after large soft-money contributions were banned. But the new figures reveal a much steeper increase that’s earlier than expected.

The Service Employees International Union, for example, more than quadrupled the size of its political action committee to $9 million in 2003, up from just $2.1 million in 1999.

Meanwhile, the Anheuser-Busch Companies saw PAC receipts climb more than six-fold to $917,000 from 1999 to 2003.

“I would certainly say that what we’ve seen so far is the shifting of old soft money to new soft dollars and new hard dollars,” said Kent Cooper of PoliticalMoneyLine.com.

Indeed, an analysis of recently released figures by the Federal Election Commission shows that the labor unions which were the biggest players in the soft-money business raised more than $32 million for their hard-dollar PACs in 2003.

That represents a 90 percent jump from the $17 million those same labor union PACs collected in 1999.

During that same time span, the largest corporate PACs collected $9.7 million, 17 percent more than they had received in the last comparable year.

Congress’ decision to ban soft-money contributions starting in 2003 meant that one of the few legal ways companies and unions can support Congressional and presidential candidates is by contributing regulated hard money.

As a result, unions and corporations have redoubled their efforts to build their PACs through thousands of individual donations from union members and employees that can then be distributed to political campaigns.

Aside from SEIU, several other politically active labor unions drastically upped their hard-money accounts.

The Communications Workers of America and the American Federation of Teachers doubled their PAC money to $3.5 million and $3.7 million, respectively, while the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees took in $5 million in 2003, a jump from $4.1 million in 1999.

Larry Noble of the Center for Responsive Politics said Democrats have been able to raise large amounts of hard dollars because leading unions oppose much of President Bush’s agenda.

“The labor movement does not see Bush or the Republicans as friends and you put the ban of soft-money with these labor issues and the removal of Bush from office — and that’s why you see a rise in PAC money,” Noble said.

Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), an early supporter of Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) presidential campaign, agreed that the swelling union PACs suggest that the liberal base is rallying against Bush.

“My sense is that because the administration has been so anti-working family that the Democratic constituency has increased and has contributed more money to the labor PACs,” Meehan said.

On the business side, SBC Communications boosted PAC receipts 40 percent from $787,000 in 1999 to $1.1 million last year.

“Our employee base has become more aware that what happens on Capitol Hill and Washington has a direct impact on our ability to be successful and compete in the marketplace,” said Tim McKone, an SBC lobbyist who runs the company’s PAC.

“There is nothing wrong with PAC money — it’s legal, it’s legitimate, it’s a way to get your voice out now that soft money is banned,” he added.

During the same period, AFLAC Inc. boosted its PAC receipts 84 percent to $900,000; Lockheed Martin Corp. increased its intake by 47 percent to $713,000; and General Electric sparked a 37 percent climb to $950,000.

Meanwhile, Fannie Mae, the fifth-largest soft-money giver in the last election cycle, decided to create a PAC for the first time in its 35-year history.

Not all of the nation’s biggest soft-money givers saw an increase in the size of their PACs after Congress voted to ban soft money.

The Laborers International Union of North America saw a 26 percent slide in PAC revenues to $1.1 million last year from $1.5 million in 1999.

Dan Kaniewski, the union’s political director, declined to offer an explanation of the union’s fundraising activities.

“Sure we have an explanation for it, but that is something we will discuss with our members, not the press,” Kaniewski said.

The Laborers International Union, like many large labor unions, also contributed millions of dollars last year to so-called 527 political organizations that plan to support Democratic candidates in this fall’s elections.

AFSCME, one of the largest soft-money donors in 2002, contributed $8 million to 527 groups in 2003 after writing $6.6 million in soft-money checks in 2002, according to CRP and PoliticalMoneyLine.com.