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Political Unions and Democrats’ Dark Money


Under federal laws, a 501(c)(4) group must primarily operate in service to the public welfare.  These groups are allowed to participate in politics so long as that does not form their primary work.  In the wake of the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party nonprofit groups, the Left is loudly denouncing the Tea Party groups as mere fronts for the powerful conservative machine, which “repeatedly violate the rules … with impunity” and receives nonprofit status with “near blanket approval,” as the Huffington Post puts it.  To prove their point they list the largest of conservative (c)(4) groups and unleash diatribes against them, ignoring the fact that the targeted groups were small and the so-called blanket approval actually applied only to “progressive” groups. In fact, not a single liberal group was called by the left to testify in recent congressional hearings—strong evidence that they weren’t treated harshly enough to make a good sob story on TV.

While haranguing conservatives for their attempts to exercise their constitutional rights, the Left has overlooked their own “dark money” nonprofits.  Those falling under 501(c)(4) classification include Priorities USA, whose affiliated Super PAC spent $65 million in the 2012 election cycle on behalf of President Obama.  As the former boss of Priorities’ founders, it would behoove the President not to go after his protégés.  Even more damning is the liberal reliance upon union donations and financial support. Progressive pundits and politicians ignored the illegal activities of their union base, which fall under 501(c)(5) rules with similar restrictions on political activity.

Union members make up one in eight American workers.  The largest of these groups, such as the American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), claim membership in the millions. These millions of workers dedicate huge amounts of time to politics. In fact, according to a study published in the Wall Street Journal, in 2010, union members reported working on political issues for combined hours that would be equal to 3,200 full-time employees on a $200 million payroll.  And 2,000 union officials reportedly spent at least half their time working on politics; nearly a thousand did so exclusively. This massive maneuvering of manpower turned out the vote among both union and non-union workers. Internally, the efforts focused on directing members to vote as told, and the vast majority did so.  AFL-CIO members have voted as instructed between 68 and 74 percent of the time over the past decade, according to the same Journal study.  That is more than 8 million votes each election from that group alone, not including the millions of nonunion voters influenced by its efforts.

The crux of the issue, however, is the federal law mandating that political activity not form a union’s “primary” work.  If the government were ever to prosecute a 501(c)(5) or (4) for breaking that law, among the most obvious criteria would be to examine the group’s spending. In that case, many unions would be in trouble. Take AFSCME, for example, which opened the floodgates over the past few years.  The union’s 2009 expenditures totaled $206 million.  Out of that, $133 million was spent on politics and lobbying, or 64% of the total.  That doesn’t include the traditional union strength of manpower and internal campaigning, which is not required to be counted.  So we have a “nonprofit” that cannot engage “primarily” in politics spending more than 64% of its hard-working members’ money on politics.

The Left would have you believe, of course, that a covert conservative conspiracy of corporations is hell-bent on suppressing your right to vote and elect your representatives. These claimed are fueled by hysteria over their favorite bogeyman, Citizens United, a 2010 court decision that said corporations—and unions!—may make independent political expenditures.  But the truth is far worse.  Corporate donations flow to both sides of the aisle; in fact, 55% of the money contributed by corporate PACs and employees of corporations went to support Democratic candidates, notes the Wall Street Journal Study cited above.   The big dark money in politics comes from union bosses throwing their member’s money at politicians, aiming a whopping 92% of the lucre at Democrats.  Labor unions were created to benefit the workers by combating unfair wages or conditions. The politics of the modern union bosses do little to uphold this ideal.  Instead, unions are merely another dependable cash box for liberal politicians.