NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Unions' Political Spending

April 28, 1997

While U.S. labor unions are in many ways much weaker than in the past (the 1996 total of 16.3 million union members was the lowest since 1953), their spending on elections is still substantial -- and their indirect giving in the form of in-kind services to candidates is measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

  • In the 1996 election cycle, unions gave $49.2 million in political action committee money and $9.5 million in so-called "soft" money, according to Federal Election Committee (FEC) records.
  • Business gave $147.4 million in PAC money and $177.3 million in soft money.
  • It has been estimated, however, that unions provided $300 million to $500 million worth of assistance to candidates last year in the form of union-staffed phone banks; publicity, printing and mailing services; allegedly non-partisan get-out-the-vote drives; and even union employees who serve as campaign staffers.
  • Unions pony up around $22 per member for political purposes, while it is estimated that businesses spend about $6.34 for each shareholder.

Observers note that while union giving goes to promote a single, unified agenda, businesses have many interests and much of their political work goes to countering one another on issues on which they differ.

Although unions don't speak for all of their members -- an estimated 32 percent of whom voted Republican in 1996 -- some 93 percent of union political money went to Democrats last year, according to the FEC.

Source: J. T. Young (Senate Republican Policy Committee), "Big Labor: The Real Political Goliath," Investor's Business Daily, April 28, 1997.


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