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Unions Taking Advantage of Citizens United

March 30, 2012
Our colleague John Aloysius Farrell reports (for members):

Political professionals agree that the Supreme Court's decision in the [Citizens United] case and subsequent rulings have given wealthy individuals and corporations an expanded range of options to spend millions of dollars in elections. What is not so understood is that unions profited from Citizens United, too. They can tap their treasuries to organize, donate to super PACs, and expand their get-out-the-vote operations with new, potent practices.

The old campaign finance laws "kept us from speaking out in a robust way," said Michael Podhorzer, the political director for the AFL-CIO. "Citizens United, though in an unwelcome way, has solved that problem." ...

To keep the field level, the AFL-CIO plans to have 400,000 members registering voters and getting out the vote this year. Thanks to Citizens United, those volunteers will be able to knock on all doors as they canvass a neighborhood--not just those of fellow union members. The federation has social-media projects, a super PAC, and an experiment that will be studied by both friends and foes this year: Instead of gearing up and then closing shop in each campaign cycle, it is placing full-time political professionals in Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. There will be more states to come, says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, and the teams will keep working after Election Day, preparing for the next round of local, state, or federal campaigns.

The Service Employees International Union has provided $1.5 million in seed money for the main pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action. And unions representing Teamsters, laborers, firefighters, food and service-industry workers, municipal employees, electricians, and teachers have all made six-figure donations (including a combined $920,000, in the case of the Teamsters union) to the Democratic Senate or House super PACs.

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