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The Koch Brothers, Unions, and the Democratic Party's Campaign Finance Delusions

2:44 PM, Mar 25, 2014 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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Interestingly, while Fang uncritically accepts this expansive dollar amount when talking about the Kochs, he goes out of his way to down play the amount of money unions spend. The Post article he gets his Koch total from from actually says that unions matched Koch spending and "plowed roughly $400 million into national, state and local elections in 2012." In fact, a single public employee union, AFSCME, likely spent over $100 million in 2012. The idea that all unions combined only spent $150 million is farcical, unless Fang is making a dishonest comparison.

Now Fang and other Koch critics like to point out that dark money, super PACs, and other non-disclosed money are being used to influence elections post-Citizens United. Now setting aside the First Amendment debate in campaign finance laws, a major reason why Democrats have railed against Citizens United is that it helped level the fundraising playing field. In fact, when Democrats tried (and failed) to pass legislation to rectify what they didn't like about the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, they actually had the chutzpah to exempt unions from new disclosure requirements they were proposing. For decades, Democrats have had a big fundraising advantage because huge amounts of union political spending don't have to be disclosed, and to the extent this spending has to be disclosed to the Department of Labor, Democrats don't even pretend to enforce it. Here's what I reported about union financial dislosure back in 2011:

The Bush administration was arguably the first to require unions to make meaningful financial disclosure, and their leaders to report conflicts of interest. The change had tangible effects. An unassuming Safeway bakery clerk was elected head of a powerful Denver grocers’ union in 2009 after she revealed that the union’s influential leader had put two relatives on salary for six figures and was using union dues to support a lavish lifestyle that included hefty bar tabs and NFL tickets. The corrupt union boss’s ouster was made possible because the Bush Labor Department for the first time had mandated itemized expenses and staff salaries on the LM-2 union financial disclosure form.

That might be the first and last union election, however, where financial transparency plays a decisive role. Since then, Obama’s labor secretary Hilda Solis has rolled back Bush administration LM-2 transparency requirements and stopped enforcing the requirement that union bosses disclose on form LM-30 whether they’re being paid on the side by companies doing business with the union. (In 2004, unions filed 96 LM-30 forms. In 2005, that number was 13,326, thanks to the Bush administration’s enforcement efforts.) The Obama administration has also stopped requiring financial disclosure for oft-abused union trusts or strike funds.

But because the Bush administration did briefly enforce these financial disclosures, the Wall Street Journal did something interesting. They looked at the surfeit of LM-2 data and calculated that, in addition to the $1.1 billion in union political spending disclosed to the FEC between 2005 and 2011, they spent another $3.3 billion on politics over that same time period. Union spending exceeds all direct political donations combined. Unions and allied interests protest that this analysis is unfair, because much of the activity described as political is inimical to union organizing:

That’s why it’s important to understand that much of the “political” spending included in this analysis is for things like preventing Ohio’s anti-union Senate Bill 5 from becoming law, or preventing anti-union legislation, successfully or not, in states like New Hampshire and Indiana. In these cases, political spending is basically a precondition for organizing any workers.

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