The AFL-CIO, Citizens United, Super PACs, & What a Difference a Couple Years Make


Via Investors Business Daily comes news that the AFL-CIO

is mulling the creation of a "super labor PAC," or political action committee, to raise funds to support or oppose candidates in upcoming elections. The thrust of the AP story is that the union coalition is hoping to use the PAC to "boost its political clout" by creating "a year-round political organizing structure."

And why not? As IBD reporter and blogger (and Reason contributor) Sean Higgins notes in his take on recent developments,

"The essential idea is that changes in the law for the first time really allow the labor movement to speak directly to workers, whether they have collective bargaining agreements or not," AFL-CIO political director Michael Podhorzer said in an interview. "Before, most political resources went to our own membership."

What "changes in the law"? The Citizens United decision, which struck down laws regulating independent political messaging by for-profit and non-profit corporations on First Amendment grounds. If you don't remember it as being about a documentary that was censored by the government, you probably remember it as "our Dred Scott" decision, in the words of Keith Olbermann.

What's interesting about this development is that the AFL-CIO was a staunch opponent of the Citizens United decision on the grounds that it didn't give unions (which are corporations just like ExxonMobil, The New York Times, and even Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website!) special rights. That is, Trumka thought the AFL-CIO should be able to "speak directly to workers" but that other types of corporations and groups should not be allowed similar avenues of expression.

Take it away, Higgins:

Unlike some other critics of Citizens United, Trumka saw the advantage in being allowed to talk directly to voters. He just wanted unions, not businesses, to have the sole advantage. As the latter half of his statement [on the ruling] explained:

"And we believe the Court wrongly treated corporate expenditures the same as union expenditures, contrary to the arguments we made in our brief in this case. Unions, unlike businesses, are democratically-controlled, nonprofit membership organizations representing working men and women across the country, and their independent speech should accordingly be given greater protection."

That explains why the AFL-CIO opposed the Disclose Act, the main piece of Democratic legislation meant to counter the Citizens United decision.  Now that the legislation failed in Congress and the whole controversy has died away, the AFL-CIO is quietly working on its own super PAC.

Whole story here. More power to the AFL-CIO. Or, more precisely, more speech power to the AFL-CIO. A super PAC is a group that can spend unlimited amounts of money on candidates and issues as long as it doesn't "coordinate" with campaigns. Stephen Colbert had good fun creating one on Comedy Central, Karl Rove has done it, George Soros and wealthy Dems are in on the action, and now the AFL-CIO will get its turn at the T-ball T.

Here's Reason.tv's 3 Reasons Not to Sweat the Citizens United Decison, which led to my appearance with Harvard Law's Lawrence Lessig on PBS's defunct Bill Moyers show (further below). I was happy to get more than a few emails after the Moyers bit from folks who told me that I had convinced them of my more-speech-is-always-a-good-thing POV.

Original release date: Feb. 3, 2010:

Here's the Moyers show, which aired on February 5, 2010:

NEXT: Reason.tv: Jay Beeber Defeats LA's Red Light Cameras

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  1. if cash is free speech, then why shouldnt candidates buy votes directly outside the polling stations?

    1. Why shouldn’t they, indeed?

      Hell, if there is not going to be a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties, the least I can ask is that President Teleprompter and ROMNIAC kick me a few bucks come November.

      Also, Orrin, back here in reality, if you are going to permit cash for votes, then you cannot have a secret ballot. Duh.

      1. my point is that cash cannot be free speech if candidates cannot directly buy votes. otherwise the [CORPORATIONZ] enjoy free speech that political candidates do not.

        1. How are corporations buying votes again? I mean, under some cash-for-votes program?

          1. Dude, you don’t get it. Independent, non-affiliated PACs, can receive UNLIMITED (OMG) amount of money. With this money they can now make ads attacking opponent candidates and issues they don’t like. Since the average joe is stupid and a brainwashed sheep with no way of making their own decisions, and since there is an OBVIOUS direct correlation between money spent and winning campaigns, cash = vote = money = purchased = profit.

            1. Also Kochtopus etc….

        2. Fuck you’re stupid.

        3. What about the [UNIONZ] doing the same fucking thing, OO?

          Or are you really that fucking stoopid?

          1. —“Or are you really that fucking st OO pid?”—

            I see what you did there

            1. Unintentional, but it DOES work. Thanks for pointing it out, Anon.

      2. Why couldn’t we have secret ballots? If a candidate thinks it’s truly worthwhile to buy the promise of a vote for which you just have to take someone’s word, then let him.

        1. Unions hate secret ballots because they can’t target the naysayers as easily.

    2. Where exactly does it say in this article – or anywhere in the Citizens United ruling – that cash = speech? This is one of those senseless bromides that the left keeps spewing that is a logic-less emotional appear with no real factual foundation. CU allows for non-campaign affiliated organizations to receive as much money as people donate – it has nothing to do with “buying” votes.

      1. corporatist hogwash. cash=free speech is the legal foundation for the CU ruling.

        1. Fuck, you’re stupid

          1. no, stupid smells like SUV exhaust while i smell like vanilla

            1. The crux of CU was about releasing a movie critical of a Protected Politician (Hillary Clinton, in this instance).

              But, it would be okay for, say, Michael Moore to release a movie critical of, say, [insert any non-Democrat prez candidate]. eh, OO?

              I retract my earlier statement… you really ARE that fucking stoopid.

    3. if cash is free speech, then why shouldnt candidates buy votes directly outside the polling stations

      Speaking of cash, people like you always miss the other side of the coin. It’s not that cash is free speech, it’s that free speech is cash.

      Since then, campaign finance limitations continue to be regulated in the Courts. In an interesting case, in 2005 in Washington state, Thurston County Judge Christopher Wickham ruled that media articles and segments were considered in-kind contributions under state law.

    4. If you think that the Citizen’s United ruling is wrong, then you must believe that speech is cash. What the government was preventing was not money donations to a particular candidate, but the distribution of a documentary critical of a particular candidate. Exactly on what basis do you believe the government has legitimate authority to that and what limiting principle is there to that authority?

      Being that Reason.com is a corporate enitity does the government have the authority to shut down Hit&Run; when posts here are critical of political candidates?

    5. Cash in general isn’t free speech, but when an attack on cash is just an end-around aimed at speech, the cash gets more protection than normal non-speech-supporting cash. In fact, the point of freedom of the press (a physical machine, not a group of people) is to prevent quieting speech by attacking the means by which a message is disseminated.

  2. Higgy-Baby!

    1. PREDICTION: That Goombah/mic Gillespie is going to get a baseball hat to the head for the first bit of anti-Trumka alt-text

      NG’s just jelly b/c TRUMKA-DICK has beetter hair than him.

      1. Wait, if I say Trumka is a hideous blob of a parasite, can I get a free baseball hat too? It’s hot and sunny up here today, and a cap would be nice.

    2. Unleash the lads!

      1. They should do a prequel series about Higgins when he first started working for Robin Masters. I bet he was up to his nose in tail, and probably had to kick an opium habit he picked up during the war.

        1. Higgins is Robin Masters, ProL. Come on.

          1. That was the stupidest storyline. Besides, I think even within the show they dropped that.

            Also besides, Orson Welles.

            1. I’d rather see a prequel about Icepick.

              1. You mean Higgins’ Huggy Bear analogue? How do you think Rick and Icepick met?

  3. Alt-text win!

  4. Does anyone think that any of the MSNBC primetime line-up feel the slightest bit of shame for their obvious overreaction to Citizen’s United?

    1. :::blank stare::::

      1. It will depend on how well democrats and Obama start polling came 2012.

    2. No. I think it’s fairly obvious they know no shame.

      1. We apologize for taking Citizens United out of context. Is that better, racists?

        1. If Obama/Dems look in decent shape starting in the summer months of 2012, no one will mention it. If it looks grim, then CORPORATE RAPETOCRACY IMMINENT! SOUND THE ALARM!

  5. The thrust of the AP story is that the union coalition is hoping to use the PAC to “boost its political clout” by creating “a year-round political organizing structure.”

    I thought the AFL-CIO was already a year-round political organizing structure.

    1. I assure you, they are.

      1. Careful with what you say. Those AFL-CIO guys are brutal!

  6. You mean in America EVERY group or organization that involves citizens gets free speech and the right to lobby the government? Why that’s blatantly constitutional! Fascism in action folks!

  7. What I don’t understand is why the Unions are forming PACS. They contribute more $ to democratic candidates than anyone yet no one ever says boo about it.

    Look at this list of top political donors and then tell me why Unions suddenly need a PAC to be more “honest”.


    1. I guess some Pols just can’t stay bought.

      They’re going to talk truth to Power in all those hard fought ‘Shwiiing’ states. I can imagine the tv ads already.

      [Scene of 19th century child coal workers]
      “Michele Bachman wants to deregulate the coal industry. She wants to put your children to work for pennys a day. She also wants to teach them Creationism.
      Vote Obama – really, trust us, it could be worse.”

  8. This will help us non-Marxists too by war us who not to vote for. If a candidate is endorsed by the CPUSA-PAC we know we should probably avoid voting for that person.

    1. war=warning

  9. Unions, unlike businesses, are democratically-controlled, nonprofit membership organizations representing working men and women across the country, and their independent speech should accordingly be given greater protection.”

    God fuck these guys with something sharp and pointy. They’re so emboldened they’ll come out and tell you to your face they don’t want you to have the same rights as they do.

    1. Unions: So awesome and democratic that in some states they force you to join!

      1. Dear God, do I know that to be true. Sure it was only a cashier job in high school, but working in a Union completely changed my opinion that unions were good.

        1. I worked at Stop’N’Shop when I was fourteen in the produce department and I had to join a fucking union to work.

          Paying union dues for part time work for a fourteen year old = democracy!

          1. A cartel just isn’t a cartel if you don’t enforce membership.

          2. I remember when I stated, they didn’t take union dues the first two months as a 60 day trail basis on the job. However, of course you had to pay that back latter on with initiation fees after those 60 days were over with plus the regular union dues. There was times where I was working 25 hours a week and taking home a paycheck of 60 dollars thanks to all of those back taxes to the union. Theft of my money to pay for people’s election that I wasn’t eligible to vote in.

            1. Theft of my money to pay for people’s election that I wasn’t eligible to vote in.

              But you enjoyed Union protections… and stuff. It’s the equivalent of the “Roads!!11!1” argument.

            2. And you got paid 4x what you would have otherwise.

              Or, you could worked elsewhere. FREEDOM!

              1. Try 5 cents above minimum wage.

                1. The first president of the AFL, Samuel Gompers, was against forced unionization.

                  Chew on that, MNG.

                  http://books.google.com/books?…..&q=gompers compulsory&f=false

                2. According to Minge, you would’ve been making 4 cents an hour if it weren’t for all the unions, so shut your filthy mouth when Trumka is talking. Minge doesn’t have to shut his mouth because it is otherwise engaged somewhere down in the shadow of Trumka’s gut.

              2. Minimum wage in California is $8. I make $8.30, but when you deduct my union dues the difference is negligible.

              3. And you got paid 4x what you would have otherwise.

                I can point you to a whole gaggle of union teachers who would disagree. But I do like the argument, because it works for my distaste for unions more than it works agin it.

        2. I’m in a grocery workers union right now. It’s a job I’ve had since high school and I’m certianly glad I have it now that I’m in college and have more stuff to pay for, but it’s possible we’re about to go on strike and I cannot for the life of me think of a single thing the union has done for me that warrants what I pay in union dues.

          1. Ever had your windshield busted with a sledgehammer? No? Consider that one of the many perks of being in a union.

          2. What Bee Tagger said. It’s what we haven’t done to you that you should be thankful for. As long as you stay in line.

          3. if u dont like ur contract language then dont vote for it. jeesch

            1. So… it’s *okay* if you get your windshield busted for voting against it, OO?

              You’re even more fucking stoopid than I thought you were upthread.

            2. if u dont like ur contract language then dont vote for it. jeesch

              I luv txt speak. 4 ever.

  10. Did he say Cholic Invention? Or Color Convention?

  11. Vote Obama – really, trust us, it could be worse.

    As Chico Marx would say, “Aaaaaahh, you no fool-a me THIS time!”

  12. If I may pose a hypothetical:

    Ron Paul (outrageously) wins the Republican nomination and opts for federal funding. Does Obama go along (unlike 2008) or will we see the greatest political about-face since Winston Smith was last called in on emergency duty?

  13. Lawrence Lessig: a servant who reigns.

  14. their independent speech should accordingly be given greater protection

    Sorry, asshole, but ALL speech should be protected speech, not just what you want to hear or say. “Congress shall make no law” and all that jazz…

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  16. Ah yes, the UFO-CIA.

  17. You are wrong. AFL-CIO supported the corporate position in Citizens United all the way. AFL-CIO even filed an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court in favor of the corporate position.

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