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January 31, 2015

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Citizens United didn’t just open money floodgates for corporations

Sun Coverage

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to corporations spending unlimited amounts of money on political advertising, a move that has had resounding implications in the presidential race this year.

But the court also lifted a key restriction on labor unions, and the country’s largest unions are already ramping up to take full advantage of it.

Like corporations, unions are free to spend unlimited money on political activism. They’ve made some hefty donations to super PACs, including the one backing President Barack Obama.

But funding super PACs to spend heavily on television commercials isn’t the only strength of labor unions under the Citizens United decision. Indeed, spending by corporations and wealthy individuals has dwarfed labor union spending so far this cycle.

Instead of running TV ads, labor unions are poised to run unprecedented ground games this year, thanks to the Citizens United decision.

In previous election cycles, labor unions could only spend their general treasury money running voter persuasion campaigns targeted at their own members. They would form political action committees to run ground games outside of their membership.

But Citizens United lifted the members-only restriction on political persuasion spending.

The SEIU and the AFL-CIO are ramping up turnout operations that will far exceed targeting their own members to go to the polls on Election Day.

Labor unions are well-practiced at running the traditional turnout machine that has been key to Democratic victories. Corporations and deep-pocketed individuals lack an equal capacity to conduct a ground game, and conservative political groups haven’t yet developed the ground game knack.

That means their money will largely play on television.

That’s where the Citizens United decision — panned by liberal activists for the money floodgates it opened — was a good thing for unions.

In an interview with the Sun last week, Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, emphasized that fact.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO

“The (corporations) outspend us 25 to 1, or somewhere in that area,” Trumka said. “They grossly outperform us. But we turn people out on the ground. We do a grassroots program and this time our program will be better, more effective. This time we get to talk to non-union workers instead of just union workers.”

He described it as “another little disadvantage” for corporations.

“And this is the first election cycle we get to use it,” Trumka said.

Trumka declined to detail the resources the AFL-CIO will put into Nevada, but noted Nevada’s battleground status will draw heavy attention from his organization.

The AFL-CIO also is focused on helping Democrat Shelley Berkley in the U.S. Senate race against Republican Dean Heller. (During the interview, Trumka quickly reaffirmed his support for Berkley in the hours following the House Ethics Committee’s decision to launch a full investigation into whether she used her office to benefit her husband’s medical practice.)

And the AFL-CIO won’t just focus its ground game on the top of the ticket. It’s planning to play an active role in five competitive state senate races and a handful of Assembly races.

“We’re going down ballot this time as well,” Trumka said.

What’s more, Trumka sees this election cycle as just the start. The AFL-CIO will erect permanent political organizations in key states such as Nevada.

“Now we’re doing this on a full-time basis,” he said. “We’ll have full-time staffing here. We’ll continue to build and next time we’ll get even deeper roots.”

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  1. Granted that corporations under Citizen's United has an upper hand, but I believe neither corporations, unions, associations, nor organizations should be a factor in political campaign financing.

    People, meaning individual citizens, severely limited campaign contributions, and transparency should be the only thing involved.

    If individuals wishing to organize to plan and become an effective voice are fine, but the financing of such organizing should be limited, non-manditory, and reportable, with no political contributions collected. Contributions must be direct, individual, limited and transparent.

    Additionally, no individual contributions or political efforts should be allowed to effect anyone's job, union status or membership in any entity. It is none of these entities business.

    "Personhood" must be removed from all business, union and other organizational identities.

    We need to get the vote back to one person=one vote, and stop the obscene amounts of money going to elect our Presidents and Congressional representatives.

    The Internet is free, and it is a cheap way for people to find the information they need to vote intelligently.

    There are plenty of places and sites right now to get non-partisan information on topics that really effect the lives of individuals and the nation.

    It takes personal responsibility and effort to learn, and not be fed partisan garbage no matter what source it comes from.

    A truly informed society is the best guarantee of freedom. That doesn't mean being brainwashed by partisan special interests. It is learning and keeping informed 365 days of every year, not just election years.

  2. P.S. End PAC's, Super PAC's, and all organized groups formed for partisan purposes, partisan special interest dissemination of propaganda, and raising political contributions, and probably more.

    Monitor and report violations that occur under the guise of some other reason.

  3. "Corporations and deep-pocketed individuals lack an equal capacity to conduct a ground game"
    This part is a completely fabricated lie. The group AFP has more outreach and voter registration on the ground in Nevada, right now, than the Nevada GOP or Dems do.

  4. Hurray!
    Private Corporations and Unions are spending money to get people off their dead behinds and get out and vote!
    Voter turnout is low..Republicans should note that 49% of their potential base is not registered to vote..
    The last mayoral race in Las Angeles had a 14% turnout..If anyone had bothered to mobilize the opposition, it would have been a rout

  5. @Heretic, eliminating PAC's and Super PAC's would be a step towards removing tools for manipulation and corruption.

    Right now, there is an open door for the manipulators of both of the major parties to perform their corrupt acts.

    They are protected at the moment. We need to eliminate the abuse, no matter where it comes from.

  6. The Citizens United legislation needs to be REPEALED. The decision should have been left for voters to decide. Our American political system is fatally broken and we need to end the 2-party system and electoral college, as well as end the practice of lawmakers attaching riders to bills to push laws through. These riders are forms of political bribery and needs to stop.

    Commenter Peacelily states it well, the abuse must be eliminated.

    Blessings and Peace,