Unions Can't Compete With Corporate Campaign Cash
By John Nichols
January 24, 2010
Some union leaders think that the Supreme Court ruling
in the case of Citizens United v. FEC -- which
essentially takes the limits off campaign spending --
will give them the same flexibility and freedom to
influence the process as it does corporations.
These are the same union leaders who imagined that
electing Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress would
lead to the rapid enactment of the Employee Free Choice
Act and meaningful labor-law reform.
The AFL-CIO actually filed a brief in the Citizens
United case that urged removal of reasonable restraints
on campaign spending.
Indeed, an attorney who prepared the amicus brief for
the AFL-CIO recently participated in a conference call
talking up the merits of the corporate position, along
with representatives of the conservative Heritage
Foundation and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.
What are the leaders of the labor federation thinking?
They imagine that, with spending limits removed,
organized labor will be able to buy enough television
time to reward their political friends and punish their
It's a sweet fantasy. But the reality is that
corporations will be buying so much more television
time when it matters -- in the run-up to key elections
-- that the voices of working Americans will drowned
out with the same regularity that they are on Capitol
Hill -- where, it should be noted, overwhelming
Democratic majorities have yet to deliver on even the
most basic demands of the labor movement.
To think otherwise is to neglect the reality that one
corporation -- Goldman Sachs -- spends more annually to
pay just its top employees than the combined assets of
all the nation's major unions.
Friedland points out that the nation's four largest
banks would have to allocate a mere one-tenth of one
percent of their assets -- $6 billion -- to counter a
campaign in which the whole of the
spent all of its assets.
The bottom line is that a union leader who supports the
Citizens United ruling is like a steer who talks up a
steak restaurant because they're both in the same business.
Organized labor ought to be siding clearly and
unequivocally with the forces of democracy in the
struggle to establish a political process in which all
voices can be heard, and in which elections are about
ideas and issues rather than fund raising and attacks ads.
A few unions "get it."
United, the nation's largest nurses union, have
accurately identified the Citizens United decision as a
"disastrous ruling for American workers and American democracy."
"The healthcare debate of the last year has provided a
sobering reminder of the already pervasive influence of
giant pharmaceutical and insurance corporations. The
last thing our democracy and political system needs is
ever more spending and political sway by the wealthiest
interests in this country," says Rose Ann DeMoro,
executive director of National Nurses United, the
150,000-member labor organization.
The notion that the Citizens United ruling might
somehow make it easier for organized labor to influence
the political process is "ludicrous," says DeMoro.
"Equating what unions and working people could spend on
campaigns would be like comparing a toy boat to an
aircraft carrier," she explains. "Corporate influence
peddling in politics already distorts and prevents our
democracy and political system (from functioning)."
"Opening the floodgates to unlimited spending is a
dangerous prescription for candidates who will be even
more beholden to the biggest corporate spenders,"
argues DeMoro. "The likely result would be more
dominance of healthcare policy by insurance and drug
giants and less public oversight of our air, water,
food, and workplaces that is needed to protect
consumers and workers."
That is the message that all of organized labor should be delivering.