Putting SEIU's Bipartisan Political Spending In Context
Republican members, political bet hedging drive union's
donations to GOP governors' association
Last week, we reported that the Service Employees
International Union (SEIU) has been donating between
$50,000 and $100,000 annually to the Republican
Governors' Association (RGA) for the past several years.
This came as a surprise to many, because SEIU has become
so closely associated with Democratic party politics. Of
course, there's no doubt that SEIU is a major force in
Democratic politics. At the national level, SEIU
reliably gives over 90% of its federal campaign dollars
to Democratic candidates. Individual locals have their
own political budgets that aren't tracked by the
SEIU's budget for the 2010 election year is $44 million,
up from $35 million in 2006, according to Jon Youngdahl,
SEIU's national political director. That's the money
that the national union will spend on House and Senate
races and statewide races such as gubernatorial races.
The political budget includes not only contributions to
campaigns but also programs to educate members about
politics and encourage them to get involved.
Youngdahl said the union's top priority for this
election is getting its members engaged. SEIU has
various programs to reach out to members on the job and
at home. The union also sponsors a "Walk a Day in My
Shoes" program where political candidates spend a day
doing the job of a SEIU member. In Pennsylvania,
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato is
scheduled to do a walk-through later this week at a
nursing facility in Philadelphia.
All told, SEIU and its affiliated state and local
councils will spend a combined total of $20-$30 million
to elect Democratic governors in 2010.
The lion's share of SEIU's political budget comes from
voluntary member contributions, not union dues. About
300,000 SEIU members give an average of $7 a month to
SEIU's Committee on Political Education (COPE).
According to Michelle Ringuette, SEIU's director of
strategic affairs, at least 300,000 of SEIU's 2 million
members are Republicans. Therefore, she said, SEIU feels
a responsibility to take the political leanings of these
members into consideration when allocating its
"Our members - Democratic, Republican, Green,
Independent and whatever - want and need to talk to
their governors and other elected representatives,"
Ringuette explained, "Our members also drive much of the
decision-making about how we spend their voluntary
contributions to COPE."
Realistically, a certain percentage of governors will be
Republicans and SEIU will inevitably find itself
negotiating with them, since many of SEIU's members work
for state governments. Giving to the RGA can be seen as
an attempt to hedge SEIU's bets.
Youngdahl said that the union's contributions to the RGA
are partly an attempt to build goodwill at the state
level. He denied that the contributions had anything to
do with the RGA's high-profile campaign to influence
state legislators when they redraw electoral boundaries
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