Guess Who’s Funding the Republican Civil War

Labor unions. And they’re doing it through a pro-business Republican PAC.

Dressed in pig costumes, members of the Laborers' International Union of North America rally outside the National Association of Homebuilders lobbying conference at the Washington Hilton April 30, 2008 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Dec. 9, 2013, midnight

The Re­pub­lic­an Main Street Part­ner­ship has emerged as an out­spoken, deep-pock­eted play­er in pro-busi­ness GOP plans to beat back tea-party chal­lengers next year. But the group’s new su­per PAC has an un­ex­pec­ted source for its seed money: labor uni­ons.

The su­per PAC, called De­fend­ing Main Street, has not yet sub­mit­ted a ma­jor donor dis­clos­ure to the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion. But doc­u­ments filed by oth­er groups show that two labor or­gan­iz­a­tions, the In­ter­na­tion­al Uni­on of Op­er­at­ing En­gin­eers and the Laborers’ In­ter­na­tion­al Uni­on of North Amer­ica, dir­ec­ted a com­bined $400,000 to the Re­pub­lic­an group in Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber.

Main Street says it has raised roughly $2 mil­lion total between its su­per PAC and an af­fil­i­ated non­profit group so far — and that means labor has sup­plied at least 20 per­cent of those funds.

For the uni­ons, this is not a sur­pris­ing move. While both labor groups dir­ect most of their mil­lions to Demo­crats, they have con­sist­ently giv­en smal­ler amounts to friendly Re­pub­lic­ans.

But the scale of these six-fig­ure dona­tions — $250,000 from the Op­er­at­ing En­gin­eers and $150,000 from LI­UNA — makes this ef­fort dis­tinct. Plus, the money is com­ing as the Main Street group has been pub­licly de­clar­ing its in­tent to crush tea-party chal­lengers in Re­pub­lic­an primar­ies, go­ing head to head with con­ser­vat­ive bank­rollers such as the anti-tax Club for Growth.

“Hope­fully, we’ll go in­to eight to 10 races and beat the snot out of them,” Main Street Pres­id­ent Steven La­Tour­ette told Na­tion­al Journ­al in Oc­to­ber.

That puts these labor groups on the front line of the GOP’s in­tra-party ideo­lo­gic­al con­flict, a battle where the af­fil­i­ation to uni­ons won’t be con­sidered ad­vant­age­ous, to say the least.

Take Idaho, for ex­ample, where La­Tour­ette and Main Street have vowed to help Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Mike Simpson win his primary against club-backed chal­lenger Bry­an Smith.

The Club for Growth has already cri­ti­cized Simpson for earn­ing uni­on en­dorse­ments in past elec­tions, and it has turned oth­er groups’ sup­port back around on Simpson, too. When the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce re­leased a TV ad back­ing Simpson on Thursday, Club for Growth pres­id­ent Chris Chocola said in a state­ment, “I guess pro-bail­out, pro-Obama stim­u­lus spend­ing, pro-debt birds of a feath­er flock to­geth­er.”

La­Tour­ette has pledged that Main Street will seek to match the Club’s spend­ing in that con­test.

“We don’t care about where Main Street gets its fund­ing from,” said Club for Growth spokes­man Barney Keller. “But it’s not sur­pris­ing that Mike Simpson, who is anti-school choice and was backed by the Idaho teach­ers’ uni­on six elec­tions in a row, would get back­ing from groups that are sup­por­ted by labor uni­ons.”

Cer­tainly, labor is not alone in fund­ing Main Street. The group’s money is “com­ing from busi­ness folks, from private donors,” said spokes­man Chris Bar­ron. “It has a wide range of folks who are in­ter­ested in sup­port­ing the gov­ern­ing wing of the Re­pub­lic­an Party.”

Bar­ron re­jec­ted cri­tiques of Main Street’s fund­ing and po­s­i­tion­ing. “If the money came from Moth­er Teresa, the Club for Growth would at­tack where it came from,” Bar­ron said.

Both the Op­er­at­ing En­gin­eers and the Laborers’ Uni­on have giv­en mil­lions of dol­lars to Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates and mil­lions more to the party’s quasi-of­fi­cial House and Sen­ate su­per PACs over the last few years. Only one oth­er PAC gave more to Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates than the Op­er­at­ing En­gin­eers’ in 2012, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics.

But both uni­ons have also con­sist­ently in­ves­ted in the cam­paigns of friendly Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing La­Tour­ette’s (when he was in Con­gress). Earli­er this year, LI­UNA en­dorsed New Jer­sey Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Chris Christie for reelec­tion, and its PAC gave $300,000 to the Re­pub­lic­an Gov­ernors As­so­ci­ation, which ran pro-Christie ad­vert­ising in the Garden State.

The Op­er­at­ing En­gin­eers’ PAC has giv­en 23 per­cent of its dona­tions to fed­er­al can­did­ates to Re­pub­lic­ans this year, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics, and it sup­por­ted a su­per PAC called “Lunch Pail Re­pub­lic­ans” last year. At the AFL-CIO’s na­tion­al con­ven­tion in Septem­ber, the Op­er­at­ing En­gin­eers and an­oth­er group offered a suc­cess­ful res­ol­u­tion ur­ging “that the AFL-CIO take prac­tic­al steps … to cul­tiv­ate and nur­ture re­la­tion­ships with mem­bers of all parties” and “en­cour­age mod­er­ate can­did­ates” in Re­pub­lic­an-lean­ing con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts as part of a “prag­mat­ic, bi­par­tis­an ap­proach” to its polit­ic­al giv­ing and ad­vocacy.

“Es­pe­cially with this crazy polit­ic­al at­mo­sphere, this is a place where we need to be lend­ing sup­port to middle-of-the-road Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans both, and this is part of that ef­fort,” Jef­frey So­th, the Op­er­at­ing En­gin­eers’ polit­ic­al dir­ect­or, said.

De­fend­ing Main Street will file its next fin­an­cial dis­clos­ure with the FEC in Janu­ary.

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