Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center



 Political leanings: Democratic/Liberal

Spending target: $53 million


The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) claims 11.5 million members (including 3 million in its "community affiliate" organization, Working America). It is a voluntary federation of 56 labor unions, and was created in 1955 by the merger of the AFL and the CIO.

Although total union membership in the U.S. is declining (from 17.7 million in 1983 to just 15.3 million in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), the AFL-CIO remains a powerful force in politics. In late August the Wall Street Journal quoted AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka as saying the organization spent $44 million in the 2006 elections (the most recent non-presidential election cycle) and plans to spend at least that much in 2010. Huffington Post reporter Sam Stein, quoting unnamed "union sources," said the AFL-CIO has pledged to spend $53 million during the cycle, and would spend more "if needed." The AFL-CIO agreed to coordinate its 2010 political spending with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a large, non-AFL-CIO union, for a combined effort of nearly $100 million, according to Stein.

The AFL-CIO overwhelmingly backs Democratic candidates and often attacks Republicans. The Center for Responsive Politics calculates that of all the donations given to federal candidates and political parties since 1990 through its political action committee, by employees and directly as "soft money" — 95 percent has gone to Democrats