Big Spenders, Cont’d

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A bit more on those dueling NYT and WSJ estimates of outside group spending and what to make of them: The Journal‘s figures include state and local spending, which in the case of a public employee union like AFSCME, would account for quite a lot of political activity. That’s one reason why the NYT‘s number, which does not appear to include such figures, seems to greatly understate AFSCME’s spending. (Another reason, as I noted earlier today, is that unions spend most of their money on mobilizing their members through internal means, not via television advertising–and only public communications like television ads must be reported to the FEC before election day. I still can’t account for why the Times would show mysteriously low figures for other outside groups who do primarily run television ads.)

The Chamber itself, by the way, has responded to the Journal‘s story about AFSCME’s huge political budget on its blog:

Turns out the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) — the friendly DMV clerk down the street — is pouring money into Democratic campaigns at a rate that would make George Soros blush, “spending a total of $87.5 million on the elections after tapping into a $16 million emergency account to help fortify the Democrats’ hold on Congress.” Their members, who, the article notes, pay an average of $390 a year in dues, must be gratified at where their money is going.

Businesses of all sizes elect to join the U.S. Chamber — membership, and even dues levels, are voluntary. But if you’re in AFSCME, you don’t have any such luxury. Like the Roach Motel, once you check in, you can never check out — but your money will keep going to support Democratic candidates, whether you agree with them or not.

The full post reflects growing frustration on the right that the current debate over campaign spending doesn’t do justice to the major role of labor unions, the influence their political money may be buying, and the fact that not all dues-paying union members support their national union’s political agenda (even though the great majority do).

But that’s not what’s new in this election. What’s new is the sudden explosion of potentially corporate-funded independent political groups, often of secretive origins, who spend tens of millions of dollars to elect and defeat candidates without disclosing where a single dollar of it comes from.