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Unions throw millions at data firm accused of breaking election law

By   /   February 24, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

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BIG GUNS: Catalist founder Harold Ickes is a former deputy chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and an adviser to the Ready for Hillary super PAC. Catalist founder Laura Quinn is a former deputy chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore. AFL-CIO Political Director Michael Podhorzer co-chairs Catalist’s board of managers. Karen White, NEA’s data and information technology director, and SEIU Executive Vice President Kirk Adams are both Catalist board members.

 

By Jason Hart | Watchdog.org

Labor unions have paid Catalist, a consulting firm accused of illegal coordination with hundreds of Democratic campaigns, more than $10 million since 2007.

Conservative nonprofit Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against the company last week. The complaint alleges Catalist LLC, the Democratic National Committee and more than 300 Democrat campaigns have broken federal election law.

Photo credit: Twitter

COORDINATED: AFL-CIO political director Michael Podhorzer co-chairs Catalist’s board

A “progressive” data and technology vendor based in Washington, D.C., Catalist is backed by the National Education Association, Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO and its member unions — because of its ideological goals and its ties to the Democratic Party.

Catalist founder Harold Ickes is a former deputy chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and an adviser to the Ready for Hillary super PAC. Catalist founder Laura Quinn is a former deputy chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore.

The company is not shy about its political objectives. Catalist’s mission is to “provide progressive organizations with the data and services needed to better identify, understand, and communicate with the people they need to persuade and mobilize.”

AFL-CIO Political Director Michael Podhorzer co-chairs Catalist’s board of managers. NEA Political Director Karen White and SEIU Executive Vice President Kirk Adams are Catalist board members.

As The Washington Free Beacon first reported, Catalist may have frequently violated laws restricting coordination between political committees and outside groups.

In addition to selling contact list access and related services to Democrat campaigns, Catalist and NGP VAN — another data firm named in the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust complaint — work with unions and other activist groups.

Catalist and its various clients share one goal: electing Democrats. SEIU bosses credited Catalist with President Obama’s election and other Democrat victories in 2008.

“Catalist provided data services to SEIU and a substantial majority of the progressive and political communities in the 2008 election,” a 2009 SEIU report explained.

“Because Catalist users uploaded IDs from much of their voter contact work to the Catalist database, they were able to compile an increasingly more accurate picture of the American electorate,” the report continued.

The company has provided Democrat campaigns with “excessive, source-prohibitied, and unreported in-kind contributions,” has exchanged campaign and Democratic Party data “with soft money groups making independent expenditures” and is “established, financed, maintained and/or controlled” by the Democratic Party, FACT asserted in its FEC complaint.

“This is a politically-motivated filing without merit,” Catalist spokeswoman Amy Weiss said in an email response to a Watchdog.org inquiry.

Materials from secretive leftist donor network Democracy Alliance obtained by the Free Beacon suggest DA sees for-profit data vendors as a way to skirt campaign finance law. DA and left-wing billionaire George Soros have been Catalist supporters since the company’s 2006 launch.

“Mr. Soros and other alliance donors were early investors in Catalist, and many of the groups funded by the alliance now buy data from it,” The New York Times noted in a 2013 story.

Although NEA, SEIU and AFL-CIO are not named in the FEC complaint against Catalist, they and other unions have paid the firm $10,473,521 since 2007. Unions also are key donors to DA’s “Committee on States” project.

Unions have paid Catalist more than $1 million each year since 2009. In 2012 alone, unions paid Catalist $1,753,497.

Based on their annual reports to the U.S. Department of Labor, these labor unions have made payments to Catalist:

  • AFL-CIO: $3,110,629
  • NEA: $2,965,542
  • SEIU: $1,954,600
  • United Food & Commercial Workers: $1,083,500
  • Change to Win: $840,000
  • American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees: $438,750
  • International Brotherhood of Teamsters: $80,500

Of the payments to Catalist reported, $590,000 from Change to Win and $188,500 from UFCW were filed as “Representational Activities.” In the 26 states without right-to-work laws, unions can take money for representational activities from nonmembers as a condition of employment.

Change to Win is a coalition led by SEIU, whose membership includes hundreds of thousands of public-sector workers. AFL-CIO’s largest affiliates are AFSCME and American Federation of Teachers, which are both public-sector unions.

NEA, the largest labor union in the country, represents public school teachers and had nearly 3 million members as of Aug. 31.

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Jason is an Ohio-based reporter covering labor issues for Watchdog.org, with a focus on right-to-work, public employee unions and Obamacare. Before joining Watchdog, Jason was communications director for Media Trackers Ohio. His work has been featured at FoxNews.com, Hot Air, The Daily Signal, RedState, Townhall and elsewhere. His investigations into labor union spending and Obamacare's Medicaid expansion have been cited by national commentators including Jim Geraghty, Michelle Malkin, Erick Erickson, Dana Loesch and Mark Levin. Jason can be reached on Twitter at @jasonahart and by email at [email protected]