Politics
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka  (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)  

Report: Unions spend four times more than previous estimated on politics

The political power of unions may not be diminishing as quickly as their crushing defeat in Wisconsin might suggest.

Since 2005, unions have spent $4.4 billion on politics and lobbying, about four times as much as previously thought, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

Between 2005 and 2011, unions reported only $1.1 billion in political spending to the Federal Election Commission.

FEC regulations require unions to disclose direct contributions to federal candidates and spending to support candidates for Congress and the White House.

However, these regulations fail to capture the entirety of spending on political activities, which for labor unions amount to an extra $3.3 billion.

This extra spending, which was revealed in annual reports to the Labor Department, includes money spent to support local and state candidates and to persuade members to vote as unions want them to.

Since 2005, local unions, their national partners and labor federations have been required to detail all spending on politics and lobbying to the Labor Department on an annual basis.

Other political expenses reported to the Labor Department, but not to the FEC, include polling fees and fees paid to consultants, attorneys and service providers such as the U.S. Postal Service to deliver political mailings.

Unions are under no obligation to disclose this type of spending to the FEC, thanks to a 1948 Supreme Court decision. The unanimous ruling made it unnecessary for unions and companies to report the costs of political communication to their members or employees.

This spending gives unions a huge amount of political clout that membership losses disguise. Their unabashed support for the Democratic Party makes them a strong force for Republican super PACs to contend with.

In 2008 labor unions made $75 million in political donations, of which 92 percent went to Democrats. (SEE ALSO: AFL-CIO scales back Democratic convention involvement)

Despite a long, steady decline in membership, labor unions still have a lot of power ahead of the upcoming November election.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only one in eight U.S. workers belongs to a labor union, down from one in six about 25 years ago. However, according to the AFL-CIO, America’s largest union federation, one in four voters this November will come from a union household.

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