by Chirs Townsend, your Capitol Hill Shop Steward....
You know, it's only a year and a half until the next federal election. So it's about that time again -- time for both big parties to start asking for campaign contributions. Ask early. Ask often.
I can independently verify that the Democrats and Republicans are indeed hard at work raising money for 1998. I know because my union office is now getting political fundraising invites at a rate of one per day. Money scandals be damned!
The Federal Election Commission reports that campaign spending for the 1996 Congressional election cycle hit a new record high of $765 million, so if they're going to top that in 1998, I guess they do need a head start. Add to this staggering figure the more than $230 million blown on the Presidential race last year, plus the hundreds of millions of unreported dollars spent by business, lobbyists, rich people, and yes, labor unions -- and we just experienced our first multi-billion -dollar federal election campaign. Just the thought of it makes me want to go wash my hands.
Organized labor has several reputations around Washington, D.C., and handing out campaign money by the bushel basket is one of them. Members of Congress, the White House, and political job applicants are all keenly aware of this. And if for some reason they don't know about it, they can hire one of the many fundraising "consultants" who infest this city like termites. Pay the consultant. Pay the consultant to ask for money. Cash the checks. Just like the directions on the back of the box.
As you might expect, labor gets hit up mostly by Democrats, and Democrats get the lion's share of the members' political money. But sometimes even Republicans get in line for the money. Virginia Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte picked up an easy $500 from labor in the 1994 cycle -- not too bad when you find out Goodlatte sported a 0% rating on labor issues from the AFL-CIO, and is the leading sponsor of the so-called "right-to work-bill." Maybe some union wanted to get on his good side. Maybe it was a mistake.
But what about North Carolina Republican Rep. Cass Ballenger, the sponsor of the overtime repeal bill that passed the House on March 19? Boss Ballenger got a crisp $1000 bill from organized labor back in 1994. I guess his momma didn't raise no dummy! Or take Texas Republican Tom Delay. As a reward for his 0% rating, he got more than $5000 for his 1994 campaign.
My favorite is the more than $17,000 in labor union money that found its way into the pockets of Newt Gingrich, just in time for his ascent to Speaker of the House. Newt wasted no time in paying back this favor -- by 1995 his labor rating had fallen to zero too. He just took our money, had a laugh, and then helped usher in the most anti-labor Congress in more than 50 years.
The fact is, a total of 171 Republican House members received $1,412,896 from labor unions in 1994. Over in the Senate, it was the same deal: Between 1989 and 1994, the zero-rated Bob Dole managed to pick up $10,000 bucks from labor. Good job, Bob! In the same time frame, Sen. Phil Gramm -- another labor zilch -- got $16,625 of union money.
While one could make a case, I suppose, that a few of these Republicans were better than many Democrats when it comes to labor issues, I'll let you answer that question the next time it comes up at your union meeting.
Labor certainly gives a lot more to Democrats -- nearly $19 million labor dollars went to 192 House Democrats in 1994. Labor money does help elect some halfway decent members of Congress, and even a few good good ones. But, sad to say, many of the Dems who got our money in 1994 had just voted for NAFTA, and went on to get behind Clinton's welfare repeal and tax cuts for the rich. Their support for pro-corporate policies isn't that surprising, when you consider how much more money most of them get from corporations than they do from us.
But the real problem with labor's political action isn't money -- or lack of it. It's the lack of clear political principle, and a willingness to stick to whatever those principles might be. It's a lack of independence from the corrupt two-party system. It's a lack of courage to face the fact that we will never be able to outspend the enemy. There might be other lessons here too -- go ahead and draw them yourself.
One lesson I draw is this: If the Labor Party could raise just half of what labor handed to Republicans -- Republicans! -- in 1994, we could really get down to business. We're inventive -- we could do a lot with $700,000! Organizers, office support, publications... tens of thousands of more members. Think about it.
And just in case you were wondering what I do with all those invitations that come pouring into my office... Most go right into the recycle bin. But if it's from the White House, or some other name-brand politician, I send them to my folks in Ohio. They like to show them to the neighbors. s
Chris Townsend is Political Action Director of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)
Sources: Federation Election Commission via Project Vote Smart, Oregon.
What's UP On The Hill?
Issue:Balanced Budget Agreement
Advocates:President Clinton and Republicans in both Houses of Congress led the way, reaching an agreement to balance the federal budget by 2002. A majority of legislators from both parties support the plan.
Status:Both the House and Senate have approved almost identical versions of the budget resolution; the compromise bill is expected to pass in early June.
Comments:The idea is to balance the federal budget by 2002, but the agreement will actually result in increased deficit spending through 2000 because of the tax cuts it includes -- many of them benefiting the wealthy. The agreement would restore some benefits to disabled immigrants and provide $16 billion to insure some of the children whose parents are too poor to afford healthcare coverage. But it would also:s Reduce by $100 billion the amount Medicare reimburses hospitals, doctors and HMOs for healthcare for the elderly and disabled. Medicare beneficiaries themselves would pay higher premiums for out-patient doctor visits.
BALANCING THE BUDGET
Sources: Congressional Quarterly, Business Week.
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