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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: Unknown

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 on 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, and it was one of the big spenders in the 2010 midterm elections.

AFSCME spent nearly $13.2 million on independent expenditures and other election communications on federal elections in 2010, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which collected its data from financial disclosure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Only five other organizations ranked higher on the center’s list of outside spending by non-party groups. In addition, the group has a 527 political organization called AFSCME Special Account that spent $46.4 million in the 2010 campaign cycle. And the New York Times reported that the union spent a total of $91 million on federal and state elections combined in 2010.

The labor union was reportedly one of the first to take advantage of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling early in 2010 allowing unions and corporations to directly finance 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.

While AFSCME ordinarily supports Democratic candidates, it made headlines in 2010 when it joined several other labor groups in targeting former Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the Democratic primary against the state’s then-Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. AFSCME spent more than $1.8 million against Lincoln (more than it spent for or against any other candidate), who would go on to defeat Halter in the primary, but lose to Republican John Boozman in the general election.

So far, AFSCME has not said what it intends to spend heading into the 2012 elections. During the last election cycle, AFSCME said it planned to spend $50 million on national and state elections, combined. It has spent $1.5 million as of June 30.