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July 11, 2012

Analysis tallies union political spending


Unions spend millions of dollars on political activities, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. (UPI/Jim Ruymen)

WASHINGTON (UPI) -- Organized labor spent $4.4 billion -- four times the amount generally believed -- on politics and lobbying from 2005-2011, a Wall Street Journal analysis found.

The Journal said previous estimates have focused on labor unions' filings with federal election officials, covering direct contributions to federal candidates and union spending to support candidates for Congress and the White House.

Such spending, reported to the Federal Election Commission and to Congress, totaled $1.1 billion from 2005-2011, the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics says.

But the Journal said unions spend a lot more on political activities, including the support of state and local candidates and persuading members to vote as unions want them to.

The newspaper's analysis is based on annual reports to the Labor Department in which local unions, their parents and labor federations list spending on politics and lobbying since 2005, which totaled $4.4 billion.

More than half, about 54 percent, of the political spending unions report to the Labor Department was on campaign donations to state and local candidates as well as fees paid to consultants, attorneys and service providers like the U.S. Postal Service, for delivering political mailings.

The rest of the spending reported to the department is for portions of salaries of union officials and employees attributed to political and lobbying activities.

"We have always known that much of [unions'] influence comes from their political mobilization, but we have never been able to put a number on it," said Bob Biersack, a longtime FEC official now with the Center for Responsive Politics. "They are a human force in the political process, but a lot of that falls outside the kind of spending that needs to be disclosed to the FEC."

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