Clin­ton sup­port puts gov­ern­ment work­ers union arm in debt

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jim McElhatton

The in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal arm of the na­tion’s largest gov­ern­ment work­ers union has taken out a $1 mil­lion loan to re­plen­ish its cof­fers af­ter spend­ing mil­lions of dol­lars back­ing Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton and crit­i­ciz­ing her ri­val, Sen. Barack Obama, ac­cord­ing to cam­paign records.

De­spite the union’s en­dorse­ment of Mrs. Clin­ton, state chap­ters of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of State, County and Mu­nic­i­pal Em­ploy­ees (AFSCME) in Illi­nois and Ore­gon have bro­ken with the na­tional lead­er­ship in re­cent months and thrown their sup­port be­hind Mr. Obama.

Fil­ings with the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion (FEC) show that the union’s po­lit­i­cal group, AFSCME Peo­ple, took out a $1 mil­lion loan on Feb. 25 from Amal­ga­mated Bank in New York while spend­ing more than $2 mil­lion to sway the Demo­cratic con­test. The ex­pen­di­tures in­cluded more than $200,000 in neg­a­tive mail­ers against Mr. Obama in New Hamp­shire, Iowa and Ohio.

Sev­eral AFSCME vice pres­i­dents worry that the move could hurt the union if Mr. Obama se­cures the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion.

Of­fi­cials from AFSCME’s in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal com­mit­tee did not re­turn nu­mer­ous phone mes­sages.

Ger­ald McEntee, AFSCME pres­i­dent and a prom­i­nent backer of for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton and Mrs. Clin­ton, on May 20 stood by the de­ci­sion to back the sen­a­tor from New York, say­ing “she can re­build the coun­try, strengthen the mid­dle class and bring back good jobs.”

“When we en­dorse a can­di­date, we back it up with ev­ery­thing we’ve got,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been do­ing. And that’s ex­actly what we’re go­ing to do for the Novem­ber elec­tion.”

But Ken Allen, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ore­gon AFSCME Coun­cil 75, has said the na­tional union ig­nored re­quests from his state chap­ter to re­frain from cam­paign­ing for Mrs. Clin­ton in Ore­gon, which held its pri­mary May 20.

“Pres­i­dent McEntee has ig­nored our re­quests and sent a mail piece on be­half of Sen. Clin­ton, phoned our mem­bers, moved staff to Ore­gon to as­sist the Clin­ton cam­paign and now is send­ing off an­other mailer,” Mr. Allen wrote in a May 7 let­ter to state union mem­bers, which is posted on the state chap­ter’s Web site, www.oreg­o­naf­

“McEntee’s ac­tions are dis­re­spect­ful to our Ore­gon lead­ers, mem­bers and a waste of money,” he added. “Given the sta­tus of the race at this time his ef­forts are prob­a­bly mean­ing­less.”

In a let­ter to Mr. Allen dis­trib­uted to Ore­gon chap­ter mem­bers, Mr. McEntee said the na­tional union’s ex­ec­u­tive board voted 23-10 to back Mrs. Clin­ton and that of­fi­cials “fully in­tend to ed­u­cate our mem­bers about why Sen­a­tor Clin­ton earned our en­dorse­ment.”

“To do oth­er­wise would be ir­re­spon­si­ble of the In­ter­na­tional Union and un­fair to AFSCME’s Ore­gon mem­bers,” Mr. McEntee wrote.

Be­cause of the drawn-out nom- ina­tion fight be­tween Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clin­ton, AFSCME and other union po­lit­i­cal ac­tion groups are spend­ing more dur­ing this cam­paign sea­son com­pared with pre­vi­ous pres­i­den­tial races, ac­cord­ing to FEC fil­ings.

In con­trast to AFSCME, the po­lit­i­cal arm of the Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union (SEIU), known as the Com­mit­tee on Po­lit­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion (COPE), has backed Mr. Obama, spend­ing more than $10 mil­lion on the pres­i­den­tial race, in­clud­ing $1.5 mil­lion at­tack­ing pre­sump­tive Re- publi­can nom­i­nee Sen. John McCain, ac­cord­ing to the FEC.

SEIU-COPE re­ported spend­ing less than $1 mil­lion through the first three months of 2004 head­ing into the gen­eral elec­tion be­tween Pres­i­dent Bush and Sen. John Kerry.

AFSCME Peo­ple and SEIUCOPE are two of the largest in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees that have doled out money in the pres­i­den­tial race. In­de­pen­dent PACs can ad­vo­cate for or against can­di­dates, but they can­not con­sult with the cam­paigns.

“We do have more re­sources than we have had in any pre­vi­ous elec­tion to get our mes­sage out,” said SEIU-COPE spokes­woman Stephanie Mueller, adding that the pro­longed nom­i­na­tion fight prob­a­bly has helped rather than hurt the group’s fundrais­ing.

“We don’t think it’s had a neg­a­tive im­pact,” she said. “If any­thing, it’s helped us lay the ground­work for what we’re go­ing to be do­ing in the gen­eral elec­tion with much more in­ten­sity.”

Over­all, the records show, unions and other in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal ac- tion com­mit­tees have poured more than $24.9 mil­lion into the pres­i­den­tial race. Mr. Obama has crit­i­cized the flow of out­side money from in­de­pen­dent PACs.

Ac­cord­ing to the FEC, out­side groups — led by the SEIU — have spent more than $11.5 mil­lion on Mr. Obama’s be­half. By con­trast, in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal com­mit­tees have spent $5.5 mil­lion to help elect Mrs. Clin­ton and less than $25,000 on be­half of Mr. McCain.

Mrs. Clin­ton also has won the back­ing of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers (AFT), but Mr. Obama has been pick­ing up more union sup­port, in­clud­ing the en­dorse­ment of the United Steel­work­ers last week. It re­mains to be seen whether the sharp di­vi­sions among some la­bor unions such as AFSCME and SEIU dur­ing the nom­i­na­tion fight will heal in the gen­eral elec­tion.

“To some ex­tent, it’s the same ques­tion that sur­rounded the whole Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion: Is the party go­ing to come around to Obama?” said John Wein­gart, as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor of the Ea­gle­ton In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics at Rut­gers Univer­sity. “I think the unions will co­a­lesce around the nom­i­nee, and it’s go­ing to be pretty clear that Demo­cratic nom­i­nee will have views more in con­cert with the view of the Repub­li­cans.

“The Obama cam­paign is go­ing to wel­come sup­port­ers when­ever they get on board,” he said. “Cer­tainly, the in­di­vid­u­als and or­ga­ni­za­tions that were on board be­fore Iowa will prob­a­bly have some aura that those who joined the cam­paign aren’t go­ing to have.”

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