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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center


Political leanings: Democratic/Liberal

Spending target: Unknown

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is a federation of 55 labor unions and was founded in 1955. It claims to have 12.2 million members.

The AFL-CIO has been one of the most politically active unions over the years. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign financing on its website, opensecrets.org, says the AFL-CIO has spent nearly $41 million on independent expenditures and electioneering communications since the 1990 election cycle. That includes $3.1 million in 2009-10 — enough to rank the group 19th among special-interest groups in the last campaign cycle, according to the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute.

Although total union membership in the U.S. is declining (from 17.7 million in 1983 to 14.7 million in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), the AFL-CIO and its affiliates continue to contribute heavily directly to political campaigns. The group, which makes campaign contributions through AFL-CIO COPE Political Contributions Committee and more than 25 affiliated state and local PACs, has made $22.3 million in campaign contributions from 1989 to 2012 — primarily to Democratic candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The group has announced it will create a so-called “super PAC” for the 2012 elections. AFL-CIO Political Director Michael Podhorzer told us in an e-mail: “Our broad goal is to ensure that working people have a real voice in the political process….we cannot be beholden to any politician or party.” In 2010, the AFL-CIO opposed Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas in the Democratic primary and supported Bill Halter. Lincoln, a moderate Democrat, won the primary, but lost the general election to Republican John Boozman. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told Salon magazine that the union in 2012 will be “giving less to party structure, and more to our own structure.”