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Labor Contributions to Federal Candidates Down So Far in 2011

Yesterday, I wrote about organized labor falling in line with the Democratic Party in the 2012 election, particularly the President. I said that the proof would come with the dollar amounts they would give to federal candidates as opposed to state and local candidates. Well, there are actually early indications that labor HAS lowered their giving on that front, picking and choosing only the candidates that support their interests.

The numbers come from The Center for Responsive Politics. In 2010, labor delivered $96.7 million, nearly their highest figure ever and only rivaled by 2002, to federal candidates, through individual, PAC and “soft money” independent expenditure giving. So far this year, they have given $12.475 million, mostly in PAC contributions. 86% of that money has gone to Democrats, and 14% to Republicans, which is actually more balanced than previous years, but only by a little. In the last Presidential election year, 2008, labor gave around $75 million. The jump in 2010 was likely due to the return of soft money through post-Citizens United outside spending; in fact, the spending returned to the long-term trend that went down from 2004-2008 because of McCain-Feingold. But so far this year, despite the ability to raise outside money, labor has so far sat on their wallets to some degree.

These numbers are not yet remotely comparable. We’re only nine months into this election cycle, and because of redistricting, some candidates don’t have districts yet in which to run. We need to return to these numbers at the end of next year for an apples-to-apples comparison. But $12.475 million does look low for this point in time.

As I understand it, candidates who have historically supported organized labor – Sherrod Brown, for example, or possibly Bernie Sanders – will receive enthusiastic financial support. Candidates of the Ben Nelson variety probably will not. If the labor-unfriendly candidates happen to also be the most threatened, this won’t align with the goals of the Democratic Party. But it will align with the goals of labor to support candidates who support them.

Ultimately, these numbers will tell the tale, and as we track them, we should split them out and see how much is given in the individual Presidential, Senate and House races. And furthermore, labor abandoning the primary battlefield, where they can have the greatest impact in ensuring better candidates, seems like a mistake. I think that takes the wrong lesson from the Halter-Lincoln fight.

I do think that some in labor, seeing their share of the workforce dwindling, has made an effort to focus on long-term infrastructure and also outreach to non-union communities, to maximize what power they have left.

There’s no one “Big Labor,” it’s a series of different groups under a couple loose federations, and sometimes they’ll work at cross purposes and even in ways detrimental to their own cause. We’ll have to piece together the long-term trends, and if they are moving toward state-level Wisconsin-type fights, long-term infrastructure and outreach, or the same-old same-old coming to the rescue of the Democrats.

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David Dayen

David Dayen