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Big Labor spent $1.8 billion during 2020 election cycle, study concludes

Large unions must file reports with the Labor Department disclosing political activities and lobbying but many expenses are misclassified.

Updated: July 26, 2021 - 11:01pm

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Organized labor spent more than $1.8 billion on political activity and lobbying in the U.S. during the 2020 election cycle, according to a new study published by the National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILRR). The majority of the money spent by labor, $1.4 billion, came straight from union dues taken from workers who can legally be fired if they refuse to fund union activities, the institute reports.

Of the total amount analyzed, more than $1.4 billion went to union general treasuries. More than $287 million was spent on government union state and local PACs and lobbying and $57 million was spent on 2020 federal PACs and committees.

The findings were published after the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a hearing on the PRO Act, which would expand union power nationwide, eliminate right to work laws in 27 states, and require millions of American workers to pay dues or lose their jobs.

Right to work protections ensure that workers cannot be forced to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 6.7% of private sector workers are union members. Recent polls have found that more than 7 in 10 Americans support right to work protections.

“Union bosses flood the American political system with money from their forced dues-stocked treasuries every election cycle, pursuing an agenda of even more coercive power over workers, even as the rank-and-file associate with them in near-record low numbers," National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix said of the study's findings. "Instead of working to grow voluntary support among the workers they claim to ‘represent,’ this report demonstrates that America’s union bosses are dead set on multiplying their government-granted privileges and using them to further tighten their grip on workers, the economy, and the political system.”

The report is based on public disclosure documents filed by union officials with the U.S. Department of Labor, and from other public sources.

It identifies hundreds of disbursements made by union officials to political entities that were classified as non-political expenditures on DOL disclosure forms, which indicate that many more similar expenditures exist.

“Large private sector unions must file reports with the Department of Labor (DOL) disclosing ‘political activities and lobbying,’” the report states. “However, many expenses that should be counted as political are misclassified. The National Institute for Money in Politics collects data on lobbying and election spending in state and local elections. NILRR excluded private sector union spending that could also be included on DOL reports.”

It also lists examples of ways in which loopholes enable unions to reportedly misclassify and potentially underreport how funds are spent.

“The lack of transparency harms the very workers these reports are meant to benefit, many of whom are forced to subsidize union activity just to keep their jobs,” the report states.

Because the total number of misclassified funds is potentially far greater than stated, and because of the number of unions that filed no disclosures or didn’t identify “political activities and lobbying” in their DOL filings, the NILRR suggests that union money spent on political activity was far greater than $1.4 billion in 2020.

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