Unions spent more than $1.7 billion during 2022 elections as Biden relies on them for 2024

More than $1.7 billion was spent by unions during the 2022 election cycle, some of it from the same type of "dark money" PAC's that are usually decried by left-leaning union leadership.

Published: September 11, 2023 11:00pm

Unions spent an estimated minimum of about $1.7 billion dollars during the 2022 midterm election cycle, as President Joe Biden is courting unions and will rely on their support for the 2024 presidential election, according to data on 2022 election spending from the National Institute for Labor Relations Research.

Included in that figure is spending by Political Action Committees, or "PACs" controlled by unions. According to independent government watchdog OpenSecrets, PACs accounted for $54,677,164 of political contributions from 2021 to 2022. There were 183 union PACs that contributed to candidates, with $6,857,226 directed to Republican candidates, and $47,770,438 that went to Democratic Candidates.

Unions' direct spending dwarfed the PACs' donations on the 2022 midterm elections. According to unions’ self-reporting on the Department of Labor’s form LM-2, they spent $1,616,575,642 on politics and lobbying.

The report by NILRR also notes that unions don’t always correctly categorize political expenses, as some are labeled “Union Administration,” “Contributions, Gifts, and Grants,” and “Representational Activities.”

For example, the National Education Association donated a total of $12,675,000 during 2021 and 2022 to the State Engagement Fund (SEF), categorized as “Contributions, Gifts, and Grants.” The SEF “is a left-of-center 501(c)(4) advocacy organization that funnels money to select left-wing groups” according to InfluenceWatch, and is headed by Anne Bartley, who is also a cofounder of the Democracy Alliance. That group, in turn, has been criticized as a "pass through for dark money" contributions, much of it sourced from billionaires George Soros and Tom Steyer. Politico called Democracy Alliance "super-rich partisans" and compared them to the Koch brothers.

The AFL-CIO gave $8 million in 2022 to the Strategic Victory Fund, a PAC started by the Democracy Alliance in 2020 to defeat President Donald Trump, but was categorized “Contributions, Gifts, and Grants.”

From a quick review of LM-2 forms, NILRR calculated $53,240,742 that they asess were not correctly categorized as political expenses. Adding the $53 million in political expenses from the union-controlled PACs to the $1.67 billion from unions, the total comes to $1,724,493,548. There are potentially more political expenses that were incorrectly categorized.

On Labor Day last Monday, Biden said during a speech to Philadelphia union workers that he was “proud to be the most pro-union president … in American history.”

The White House released a fact sheet on Sept. 1 about Biden’s pro-union policies, such as “Demonstrating the Union Advantage” by showing “how unions benefit the economy” and “Supporting Workers’ Right to Organize,” which included relaunching the Worker Organizing Resource and Knowledge Center, “the federal government’s premiere online resource center providing information about labor unions and their importance to workers and communities.”

Biden won major endorsements from union leaders in the 2020 presidential election, but many rank-and-file members supported Trump. According to AP VoteCast, the Associated Press’ national electorate survey, about six of 10 union members voted for Biden in the election.

The AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and other unions have already endorsed Biden for the 2024 presidential election, according to The Hill.

Biden has been criticized by some union activists for signing legislation that prevented a nationwide rail strike in December and in June apologized for "crossing a digital picket line" according to union members after referencing coverage from the news outlet Insider, whose reporters were on strike at the time. According to The Washington Post, the 13-day strike was the longest yet at a digital media company. 

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