April 2012, Week 4


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Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>
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Fri, 27 Apr 2012 19:50:31 -0400
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Workers' Voice, AFL-CIO Super PAC, Relinquishes Control Over $4.1 Million War Chest


Sam Stein

WASHINGTON -- In a move described as unprecedented in
the history of organized labor, the largest
union-affiliated super PAC will relinquish control of
its funds, giving union and non-union members the
chance to have direct say over its $4.1 million
campaign war chest.

Workers' Voice, the super PAC arm of the AFL-CIO, will
unveil on Thursday a new program designed to
incentivize political engagement by offering slices of
power over a major part of its election-year

Participants who undertake campaign activities -- phone
banking, neighborhood canvassing, field program
volunteering and others -- will be rewarded the
equivalent of super PAC currency. That currency, in
turn, can be used to direct which candidates and issues
Workers' Voice supports and how they support them, be
it through online advertising, voter registration, Get
Out The Vote operations or other mechanisms.

"We are kind of jumping off a cliff and opening
ourselves up to democracy. We are going to empower
people and empower workers in a way that's not been
done before," said Workers' Voice spokesman Eddie Vale.
"There may be a congressional race that isn't much on
people's radar in D.C. But if there are a hundred
activists in that congressional district who get their
asses out of bed every morning and make phone calls and
knock on doors, we feel they have earned the right to
put [our] resources there."

Workers' Voice has yet to finalize the algorithm that
will determine the amount of currency each campaign
activity will be worth. That will come after the group
monitors initial reactions to the program. But users
looking to earn currency will be able to choose an
activity to complete from an online menu (direct
contributions to a candidate or committee, which the
super PAC is prohibited from making, are not on the
list). In addition to that virtual marketplace,
participants will also be allowed to tag contributions
to the super PAC for a specific type of action for an
individual candidate, as opposed to donating money to
the general election fund.

"If you wanted to make a $50,000 contribution to drive
X number of phone calls on behalf of a candidate you
like or against a candidate that you hate, you can do
that," said Vale. "This is a new incentive model that
no one has every tried. I think we have a real shot at
doing something unique and meaningful here."

Collectively, the reforms could constitute a dramatic
revamping of both the traditional union political shop
and the political action committee structure.
Currently, decisions over how money is spent on
elections are strictly within the purview of officials
inside the union or running the PAC. That setup lends
itself to a simplified and consistent political
strategy. But with respect to organize labor, it also
leads to conservative criticism that union dues are
being used without member input or against their

"Any union member can already check off and not have
any of their money go to political purposes," Vale
said, by way of addressing that criticism, which Mitt
Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, has
articulated at recent campaign stops. "This wasn't
created in response to Romney's comments. But it is a
very good answer to their canard that there is some
secret union boss in D.C. making these decisions,
because this is literally not just any rank-and-file
union member making decisions, this is any member of
the general public."

Indeed, under the new rubric, supporters of a certain
candidate would receive the equivalent of a matching
donation from the super PAC for the time and work they
put into campaigning. That could result in a heavy
strain on the group's resources. But Vale was adamant
that Workers' Voice would "have enough resources to
spend on our priorities as well." It currently has $4.1
million cash on hand, but it can accept unlimited
donations from individuals, corporations and unions.

The group is not hiring anyone new to manage the
operation. Current employees will monitor it closely
and in real time to ensure that participants aren't
gaming the system, perhaps by claiming to have knocked
on more doors or placed more calls than they actually

Organizers at Workers' Voice said that they believe
hundreds of thousands of people will participate in the
new program. The Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling
allows union groups to communicate with union and
non-union members alike. That freedom, combined with
labor's current numbers -- the AFL-CIO alone has 11
million members -- provide a vast network of potential

"Nothing even close to this has been done before," said
Vale. "Nothing like this has been done in politics that
I know of."


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