Express Advocacy for Us but Not for Them


Mother Jones reporter Suzy Khimm notes that the deluge of corporate speech prophesied by President Obama and other critics of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC so far does not even amount to a trickle. The Center for Responsive Politics counts exactly one example of express advocacy by a corporation in the recent elections: "A real-estate company called KDR Development ran a print advertisement against the Democratic incumbent in a Texas state House race." Labor unions, by contrast, have been quick to take advantage of their new freedom:

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the AFL-CIO have begun to use the new Citizens United rules to promote their preferred candidates in closely fought contests, such as Lt. Gov. Bill Halter's challenge to Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas' Democratic Senate primary, and the special election in Pennsylvania's 12th congressional district, which Democrat Mark Critz won in mid-May….

The ads urged voters to "say no to Blanche Lincoln," "vote no on Blanche Lincoln," and "vote for Bill Halter," as well as another TV ad that suggested that "it's time for Arkansas to let [Lincoln] go."…

Similarly, the AFL-CIO told voters to "cast a vote for Pennsylvania jobs—Mark Critz for Congress" in a radio spot funded by soft money contributions. "We participated heavily in that election and we're proud of the results we got," says AFL-CIO spokeswoman Amaya Tune. "We think that ad, and others that we got, were extremely helpful in pushing Critz over."

It makes sense that unions, which do not have to worry about alienating customers or upsetting shareholders, would be be more eager to run political ads than major corporations are. Still, Ricky Feller, AFSCME's deputy political director, worries that the union advantage won't last and therefore suggests that it should be enshrined in law:

"Once corporations figure out how they're going to do this or not do this, we can't compete with their money," says Feller. But they believe that the same rules shouldn't apply to them. "We think unions are different from corporations," says AFL-CIO's Tune. "They actually represent members who pay their dues, representing working people."

Khimm alludes to the DISCLOSE Act, which she describes as "legislation that would create stricter disclosure requirements for political advertising," without mentioning that it embodies the sort of double standard Feller wants.

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  1. “We think unions are different from corporations,” says AFL-CIO’s Tune. “They actually represent members who pay their dues, representing working people.”

    “They” being the corporations? Gotcha.

    1. I see what you did there, JW. I do labor relations for a living, and you are spot on.

    2. Because nobody works in corporations, see? It’s only unionized labor who works. They’re famous for their work ethic.

    3. I know, that sentence doesnt make sense no matter how hard you try to figure out what distinction Tune is making.

      As though “corporations” arent taxpayers, and their employees arent really “workers”, and that “dues” are somehow a kind of special democratic feature rather than a pay-to-play extortion of the labor base for crass political manipulation. If you work in a union, can you choose not to pay your dues if you dont agree with the candidate the union ostensibly supports? Effectively its an abdignation of your individual ability to choose; at least if your corporation is supporting a candidate you personally dont support, at least the money is coming out of the working capital of the company (and shareholder earnings) and not your own personal paycheck. And if you’re a shareholder in a firm that supports a candidate you dont support, hey, thats what proxy votes are for. In fact the more you consider Tune’s non-distiction-distinction, the more it seems as though she has the idea completely reversed.

  2. They can’t compete with corporate money?

    OMG that’s the funniest thing I’ve read all day.

  3. I have noticed quite a few union ads lately. In MN, the AFSCME was running an ad to encourage people to support a tax increase on the wealthy because they “don’t pay their fair share.” No mention of taxing the wealthy to ensure the funding of AFSCME’s pension benefits, which are bankrupting the state. I also saw one last night from the teacher’s union thanking the students for a great year. It’s funny, though unsuprising, that a group who screams bloody murder at any modest proposal to curb education spending has enough money to run a PR campaign.

  4. The laborers are different than you and me.

  5. This is what we should have expected.

  6. It bears repeating: the power corporations have is tied to their money, not to running ads during election campaigns. The Right Honorable Senator Buttlick can get his harpy wife a plump six-figure “consulting” or “lobbying” job, or walk into one himself after his service. You think a few campaign ads can compare to that?

    1. Of course, the unions never set up any such sweetheart deals for their benefactors. Uh uh. They don’t have the money to compete, remember?

      1. Point being, restrictions on corporate speech aren’t the cleansing fire of democracy they’re touted to be, simply because corporations’ real power is buying the politician off directly.

        1. When Big Government has enormous power to *uck up people’s lives (put the letter or letters of your choice in place of the asterisk), it’s perfectly rational behavior for people to try to influence Big Government to use that power to *uck up somebody else’s life.

          The solution is not more regulation, but to decrease the power Big Government has to *uck up people’s lives in the first place.

    2. The power of large corporations is also the jobs they create. A large factory is closed, lots of constituents go jobless, and jobless constituents are unhappy constituents. That makes politicians nervous.

  7. It makes sense that unions, which do not have to worry about alienating customers or upsetting shareholders,

    Or union members, especially where membership is compulsory to keep your job.

    1. Or union members, especially where membership is compulsory to keep your job.

      True, I’ve never understood how that policy isn’t considered exploitation by the majority of people.

      1. Sometimes you have pay the union even if you are not a member. The NJEA collects 85% of the standard dues from every non-union teacher in schools in which they operate, and don’t offer any of the benefits of membership and no legal assistance should it be necessary.

        I think their membership is so large is because most think that the extra 15% is a small price to pay to get legal fees taken care of should anything go awry.

        1. I can understand why in that situation someone would be willing it pay the extra 15%, but it’s still bullshit.

          1. It would be best if the NEA/NJEA just said if you want to join, it cost $730 a year to be a member (that is the going annual rate). If you don’t want to join – you get to keep your $730 and have to independently negotiate the terms of your employment with the Board. Deal?

            I suspect membership would drop if that were the case.

            1. The problem is, the teachers who most benefit from the union are the ones who are substandard. With the policy you propose, most of the good teachers would probably choose to negotiate independently. Then when the remaining dregs of the teaching profession wanted to strike for more benefits, the state would tell them to fuck off.

              OK, that last part is probably pure fantasy, but the point remains.

              1. So… you are arguing that telling substandard teachers to fuck off is a good or bad thing?

    2. I’m in a union-represented position and I have to pay union dues, but I’m not a member unless I register with the union. The dues aren’t higher for people who do register. As a non-member, I can object to paying the portion of the dues that are used to fund political activities. I have done so for several years, and have gotten a check for about $5/month from the union since then. It’s called a Hudson Rebate. The union (UPTE) is required to send a notice about the rebate prior to collecting fees, but they never used to. This guy, Werner Witke, has been all over UPTE for years about this and gotten about 900 people to object. He’s really made a heroic effort and spent a lot of money and time fighting the union, for the principle of it. Go Werner!

      1. It’s me and it’s real. This person gets back money from the union every year, $60 to $80, two weeks worth of groceries every year if you’re frugal like me. I would rather get the money back than give it to the union because this is the part of the fees I pay the union that they use to support their political causes. I wouldn’t give a nickel to support any politician, better to use it to feed myself.

        The US Supreme Court has ruled that the union must give you back this money. However, unions don’t advertise this, they send out legal notices difficult for the common person to understand, encumber these notices with legal limitations, lawyerspeak and other nonsense. I cut through this bullshit with the union that represents me and about 10,000 others.

        You too can do what I do. Get money back from the union that represents you. You can email me at for advice, information and you can visit my web site at to learn more.

  8. Off topic –
    May 27, 2010

    This supplemental appropriations bill provides over $37.47 billion to support our troops, conduct the war in Afghanistan, continue to drawdown troops in Iraq, and provide non-military assistance and build up State Department operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

    It also provides over $24 billion to keep teachers, firefighters and law enforcement personnel on the job while states continue to recover from the recession; over $13 billion for Vietnam veterans and survivors exposed to Agent Orange; $5.7 billion for PELL; $2.8 billion for Haiti; $677 million, fully offset, for border security; $275 million for the Gulf Coast oil spill; and $725 million, fully offset, for other needs.

    I thought with the advent of Hope and Change? this duplicitous accounting gimmick went by the wayside.

  9. “They actually represent members who pay their dues…”

    They pay union dues that pay your salary. What a bunch of suckers, right Tune?

  10. It was the union movement and the welfare provisions that grew out of the New Deal that created the middle class. This is being undone. There is now greater social mobility in the Scandinavian countries than in the US. We need more unions and fewer right-wing cults.

    1. (if you’re not a spoofer)

      Give it up, dude.
      Grow some balls and find a handle you want to keep.
      If you can’t find a reason to disagree, then either leave, or join us. First posted 5/21/10

      1. There is no Max, just Nick when he’s drunk.

        1. There is no Max, only Zuul.

          1. I figured it couldn’t hurt to think of Max because he’s so pure and harmless.

            1. One…two…three…Roast em!

    2. Hey Max, Sweden has school choice (vouchers), and does a better job educating its kids at a lower cost.

      We capitalist, right wing cults, etc, would love to have that in the US but the unions are getting in the way. It appears worthless teachers want to stay in the middle class while denying our youth a shot at it. Unions at their finest!

    3. “It was the union movement and the welfare provisions that grew out of the New Deal that created the middle class.”

      Bullshit. How do welfare provisions create a middle class? Likewise, how exactly did the union movement create the middle class? Given that the majority of the jobs in this nation are small business jobs and so are not union affiliated, what’s the argument for that?

      “There is now greater social mobility in the Scandinavian countries than in the US.”

      Bullshit, again. I’ve seen the study website that’s been cited as proof of this, and it fails to offer any of the criteria that were actually used to measure social mobility. Please offer some proof that is actually measurable to support your assertions.

      “We need more unions and fewer right-wing cults.”

      Yes, because clearly they’ve done such a fine job of bankrupting American businesses and robbing the taxpayer. We sure need more of that.

    4. Re: Max,

      It was the union movement and the welfare provisions that grew out of the New Deal that created the middle class[…]

      The middle class of what?

    5. *barf*

    6. Which is why there was no middle class in this country before 1933.

      1. Right.

        And you didn’t know that you’d reached it when you could afford to hire in help.

        Because it wasn’t there for you to get to.

  11. This is interesting, but not really surprising. Unions have always been more politically involved than most corporations who try not to alienate either party.

    1. Well, unions have always been more blatantly partisan. Corporations do give a lot of money, but they like to give to both parties, but especially whoever is going to win.

  12. Dred Scott!!!!111!

    1. Indeed Keith. Just like the Dred Scott decision, unions have decided the people who make up corporations don’t have rights like they do.

  13. Look, we are legitimate labor reps.

    I gotta say, this is a real nice legislative body you got here. Be a shame if anything happened to it…

  14. In the town where I live, Alameda, California, we’re faced with a huge parcel tax floated by the school district, but financed in truth by the teachers’ unions. 93% of the public school budget goes to salaries and benefits. And while the local Catholic schools graduate 90% of their students, the public school average is under 80%. We need REFORM in U.S. education, but instead we get higher taxes and NO accountability!


    1. Good parents make good schools. The RCC schools are going to have motivated parents. So it’s not a fair argument to say the graduation rate is a little better so the school is better. A better argument is that rational parents are passing up a free public education to spend $50k to send their kids to an RCC HS.

    2. Wait, the graduation rate in the town of Alameda itself is under 80%? Or Alameda county as a whole?

  15. My working 50-60 hours a week for a corporation in a non-Union job means I’m not a working person, but the bus driver who takes 6 months sick leave because they stubbed their toe is a working person.

    Got it.


  16. Labor, simplified: We don’t want corporations running expensive ad campaigns because they’ll have less money to hire drones we can exploit. Working families, community, harumph.

    Any really effective parasite knows not to kill the host too quickly…

  17. In other unsurprising news, Boeing officially endorsed Democratic Senator Patty “We can’t allow corporations and special interests to drown out the voices of Washington State families” Murray in her re-election bid, likely as thanks for her support for Boeing’s contract bid.

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