The Association of U S West Retirees



Unions Bolster Election Budgets
Voter-Outreach Programs To Use New Technologies To Back Democrats in '08
By Kris Maher
The Wall Street Journal 
Saturday, September 22, 2007

In a bid to help a Democrat reclaim the White House, the labor movement plans to spend a record amount on next year's election to boost its already ambitious voter-outreach program, which will include greater use of email, text messaging and other technologies.

The AFL-CIO said it will pump $53.4 million into the 2008 election, up 11% from the $48 million it spent in 2004.  It also said it will mobilize 200,000 volunteers and focus resources in key battleground states with large numbers of union members -- including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin -- in an effort to help Democrats win three to six additional seats in the Senate and five more seats in the House.

   Beefing Up:  AFL-CIO plans to pump $53.4 million to bolster Democrats in the 2008 election, up 11% from 2004.
   Mobilizing Forces:  Using text messages and emails, the money will go toward getting more members to the polls.
   All or Nothing:  The pledge to spend more as many unions are hit by shrinking memberships is a sign of desperation mixed with hope, an observer says.

Individual unions also are digging deeper into their coffers.  The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said it will spend $60 million in the 2008 election, a 25% increase from the $48 million it spent in 2004.  The Service Employees International Union said it will spend more than the $65 million it spent during the previous presidential election, which was the most spent by any union.

The pledge to spend more at a time when many unions are strapped for funds from shrinking memberships is a sign of desperation mixed with hope, said Gary Chaison, a labor expert at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.  "This is the all-or-nothing election for them.  They can't have another four years of not having the White House," he said.  Business interests have traditionally outspent labor by a 10-to-1 ratio, and he doesn't expect that to change.

At the same time, unions are still the only organizations that can mobilize people to work on political campaigns in huge numbers, say experts. The beefed-up spending would help to further increase the clout of unions, which were credited with helping to put some Democrats over the top in the 2006 midterm congressional elections. Union officials are buoyed by the strong field of Democratic candidates and believe any would broadly support labor's legislative agenda on health care, trade, immigration and union organizing.

The AFL-CIO's funds will be spent entirely to educate and mobilize union members and on issue advertising. In presidential elections, the vast majority of spending by individual unions goes to staff phone banks, knock on union-household doors and register union members to vote, as well as print mailings and communicate in other ways with members. Far less is contributed by unions directly to candidates.

Unions are legally permitted to spend union members' dues on outreach to members and their families.  Advocacy campaigns related to candidates and aimed at the general public must come from voluntary contributions from union members, which can be channeled through political-action committees, or PACs.  Union PACs also are raising funds at a faster clip this election season, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Individual unions are using new technologies, as well as enhancing grass-roots efforts, to get more members engaged and to the polls.  The Laborers International Union of North America will spend $15 million in 2008, nearly double what it spent four years ago, much of it on new outreach methods.  The union will send text messages to members' cellphones and will tailor messages to retirees and Hispanic members, among others, via email and online documents.

By passing on more information and reminders to members, "our intent is to continue to increase the number of our members that actually go out to vote," said Terry O'Sullivan, president of the Laborers union.

Meanwhile, SEIU is training more union members where they live, rather than sending several thousand organizers to different states, as it did in 2004.  The union expects local members who are known in the community to be better able to persuade other members to vote for a candidate.  In Iowa, where SEIU has about 4,000 members, it has begun workshops to teach members how to lead caucuses and canvass union members.

Write to Kris Maher at