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Latest News - March 2015

April 6, 2015
GOP group's super PAC mostly funded by unions

Almost all of the money donated to the campaign super PAC of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a group dedicated to supporting moderate GOP members, came from organized labor sources in the last election cycle, Federal Election Commission records show.

The Defending Main Street SuperPAC Inc. took in just over $2 million in 2013-14. Of that, $1.8 million came from union sources. By comparison, business trade associations provided $50,000.  It was the first full election for Defending Main Street. It raised a scant $41,000 for the 2011-12 cycle. A super PAC is a campaign political action committee that can accept unlimited amounts of funding but cannot coordinate with a candidate.

The sums are noteworthy because the relationship between the Republican Party and organized labor has long been antagonistic. Unions poured $137 million into the last election, 89 percent to Democrats.  Sarah Chamberlain, the group's chief operating officer, said in an email to the Washington Examiner that there was still some common ground between the GOP and unions.

"It's overlooked by some in Washington, but the reality is there are many union members who support the Republican Party's message of fiscal responsibility, job creation and reforming government," Chamberlain said.  The unions that donated the most heavily to the super PAC were mostly blue-collar. The International Union of Operating Engineers and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners each donated a half million dollars. The Laborers' International Union of North America donated $325,000.

"Especially with this crazy political atmosphere, this is a place where we need to be lending support to middle-of-the-road Democrats and Republicans both, and this is part of that effort," Jeffrey Soth, the Operating Engineers' political director, told National Journal last year.  Chamberlain argued the funding was benefiting the GOP as a whole since it was used mainly to help Republicans in moderate or swing regions such as Shelly Moore Capito's successful bid for a West Virginia Senate seat.

"We especially appreciate donations to Main Street's political action committee because every dollar goes directly to helping elect Republicans and grow the GOP majority in Congress. The continued support from union members will be especially critical if Republicans hope to win states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada in 2016," Chamberlain said.  Aloysius Hogan, labor policy expert at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, argued the group was electing Republicans at the expense of giving labor more control over federal legislation.

"The theory that Big Labor need only obtain the votes of a fraction of the Republican conference to obtain a governing majority on its own special-interest issues comes to fruition in the [Main Street Partnership]," he said.  Unions that donate to the group say it has been extremely helpful to them in pushing their agenda in Congress, particularly on contentious issues in which a few votes make the difference.  Mary Kusler, director of government relations for the 3 million-member National Education Association, said the union had a "very close working relationship" with the GOP group, though she repeatedly called it the "Main Street Alliance."

The teachers union's national headquarters has donated nearly $200,000 to the GOP group since 2008, Labor Department filings show.  "There are many members of the Main Street Alliance that support organized labor, so we have been working very closely with them over the years on issues related to that," Kusler said.  Kusler cited legislation relating to public pensions as one major issue. Another one particularly important to NEA was the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which guides federal spending on education.

The super PAC donations were far from the only money the partnership received from unions. It received substantial amounts from more liberal groups such as the Service Employees International Union, which has donated more than $300,000 since 2001 to the partnership's various affiliates.  The partnership's regular political action committee took in $150,000 from unions in the last election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, accounting for about one-tenth of its total take.



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