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AFL-CIO seeks to bolster clout

By Sam Hananel
Associated Press

Washington — The AFL-CIO wants to boost its clout by launching a new political action committee that could raise unlimited amounts of money, part of the federation’s goal of building a year-round political organizing structure.

Forming a so-called “super labor PAC” would allow the labor federation to raise money from sympathetic donors both inside and outside union membership and mobilize support beyond its traditional base, instead of ramping up political activities each election cycle.

The move also would help steer more of labor’s money to state legislative battles, where unions have been battling efforts to curb union rights in states such as Wisconsin and Ohio.

“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. “Before, most political resources went to our own membership.”

Labor leaders discussed the plan at the AFL-CIO executive council meetings this month, but officials said the idea remained subject to final approval over the next few weeks.

Both GOP- and Democratic-leaning super PACs have flourished since a landmark 2010 Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited cash in support of, or against, candidates for elected office. The super PACs must operate independently of candidates.

Unions have spent millions this year on efforts to recall Wisconsin GOP lawmakers who supported legislation that weakened collective bargaining rights for most of the state’s public employees. The AFL-CIO alone contributed more than $5 million to the group We Are Wisconsin, a coalition of national unions and others backing the recalls. Still, conservative groups opposing the recalls spent even more in the state.

“They could attract new kinds of money,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics, “and to the degree they could be successful with that, it opens up a whole new avenue for contributing and opportunities for spending.”

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