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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)


Political leanings: Democratic/Liberal

Spending target: $50 million


AFSCME is a labor union that represents 1.6 million employees, including health care workers, corrections officers and sanitation workers. It has been politically active on the national level in such issues as expanding health care, protecting pension benefits, raising minimum wage standards, preventing the privatization of government jobs, and extending unemployment benefits.

It is one of the most powerful groups in Washington. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics ranked AFSCME People (the labor union’s political action committee) No. 2 on its list of "all-time top donors" in Washington, second only to the employees and political action committee of AT&T. Since 1989, the group’s PAC has donated more than $42 million to federal candidates and parties — nearly all of it to Democrats. That does not include what the union spent on advocacy ads that urge viewers to take a position for or against an issue or a candidate’s position. Its funding comes from union members.

Mother Jones magazine reported that AFSCME was one of the first to take advantage of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January 2010 that struck down a federal law that banned unions and corporations from directly financing ads that expressly call for the election or defeat of a candidate. Until that court decision, unions and corporations had to use political action committees for "express advocacy ads" and such PACs were limited to accepting no more than $5,000 per year from individuals. AFSCME — not its PAC — was responsible for TV ads opposing Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the Arkansas primary, such as one called "Movers," which we wrote about in May.

Larry Scanlon, AFSCME’s national political director, told the Washington Post that AFSCME plans to spend $50 million on national and state elections this campaign cycle.