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Public employee union spends $28 million on progressive politics

By   /   April 12, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

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DEMANDS: AFSCME spends member dues to push for costly government worker contracts and other political priorities.

Left-wing politicians, lobbyists and activist groups raked in more than $28 million in government workers’ union dues last year.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees reported $27.2 million in “Political Activities and Lobbying” expenditures in its 2015 filing with the U.S. Department of Labor. An additional $1 million in AFSCME “Contributions, Gifts and Grants” went to political nonprofits.

AFSCME did not respond to Watchdog.org questions about how political spending decisions are made and communicated to members, but the union’s annual report showed a predictable partisan and ideological bent.

The union gave $600,000 to the Democratic Governors Association, $325,000 to the California Democratic Party, $300,000 to Washington State Democrats, $250,000 to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, and $100,000 each to Democratic Party accounts in Nevada and Ohio.

Democrat-aligned political action committees and super PACs got more than $1 million from AFSCME last year, including contributions of $500,000 to America Works USA, $250,000 to Senate Majority PAC, and $150,000 each to House Majority PAC and American Bridge 21st Century.

AFSCME sent union coalition AFL-CIO $599,591 and AFL-CIO organizing arm Working America $1,130,600, flagged as political expenses. Neither of those expenditures matched the $1,475,000 AFSCME sent to AFSCME Illinois Council 31 for state and local campaigns.

As in previous years, nominally independent left-wing groups benefited from AFSCME leaders’ use of union funds in 2015. Among other political expenditures, AFSCME gave:

  • $1 million to Americans United for Change.
  • $375,000 to America Votes.
  • $300,000 to Partnership for Working Families.
  • $250,000 to Center for American Progress.
  • $150,000 to The Progressive Agenda.
  • $100,000 to Progressive Congress.
  • $100,000 to US Action.

Secretive donor network Democracy Alliance received $135,000 from AFSCME, and Democracy Alliance’s Committee on States project got $525,000. Forward Philadelphia received $625,000, and Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform received $475,000.

AFSCME sent $150,000 to AFSCME Ohio Council 8, $302,245 to AFSCME Iowa Council 61 and $475,000 to Kentucky union front group Kentucky Family Values. Kentucky held a gubernatorial election in 2015.

RELATED: Service Employees International Union sinks another $30 million into politics

Many of AFSCME’s donations to progressive nonprofits were not disclosed as political activity. “Contributions, Gifts and Grants” expenditures reported by the union included $174,000 to the Economic Policy Institute, a union think tank, and $160,000 to the National Public Pension Coalition.

Contributions of $110,000 to the leftist Roosevelt Institute and $100,000 to tax-hike advocacy group Citizens for Tax Justice weren’t reported as political spending, either.

Trey Kovacs, a policy analyst for the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute, said it’s no surprise AFSCME obscures a portion of its political spending as “Contributions, Gifts and Grants” in annual reports.

“Moreover, nearly all activity taken by government unions is inherently political,” Kovacs told Watchdog.org. “It is common for unions to use fees from non-members to influence how public money is spent, which is blatantly political.”

“Non-members should not have to pay for this activity, yet a number of states have given government unions the absurd privilege of forcing hardworking men and women to pay for representation they don’t want and activity they vehemently disagree with,” he added.

Kovacs said AFSCME’s 2015 spending reaffirms the union’s sharply political nature, and should serve as another argument for states to pass right-to-work laws protecting each worker’s right to choose whether to pay a union.

Public employee petitioners in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case that recently resulted in a 4-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court argued that all public-sector union spending is inherently political because the unions negotiate over public services and taxpayer money.

AFSCME and other public employee unions celebrated the split ruling, but the petitioners have asked for a new hearing to be scheduled when a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia is seated.

Elsewhere in AFSCME’s 2015 report to the Department of Labor, a large portion of spending AFSCME reported as “Representational Activities” was devoted to recruiting new members instead of representing existing members.

The entirety of AFSCME’s single-largest representational activity expenditure — a $2.5 million payment to New York affiliate Civil Service Employees Association — was for “organizing assistance.”

The union’s Washington, D.C., headquarters reported $500,000 in organizing assistance payments to AFSCME Illinois Council 31, $350,000 in organizing assistance payments to AFSCME Washington Council 28, and $314,000 in organizing assistance payments to Ohio-based AFSCME Local 4 as representational activities.

AFSCME had 1,305,128 members at the end of 2015, a loss of nearly 32,000 members from the year before and more than 160,000 since 2010.

Compared with 2014 — a midterm election year in which AFSCME dumped $65 million into politics — last year was a slow year for AFSCME political spending.

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Jason was formerly a reporter for Watchdog.org