A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Service Employees International Union (SEIU)


Political leanings: Democratic/Liberal

Spending target: Unknown

One of the most influential groups in Washington, SEIU represents about 2.1 million workers in health care, government service and property service professions. It spent more than $70 million during the 2008 elections and an additional $54 million during the 2010 midterms, putting it high on the list of the top-spending PACs in both years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

SEIU President Mary Kay Henry announced on Nov. 16 that the labor union was endorsing President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. In a blog post on the union’s website, Henry wrote that “President Obama is the only candidate for president who shares our vision of America as a land of opportunity for everyone.” Obama garnered SEIU’s backing during the 2008 campaign as well, though not as early as this time around. The union’s political action committee (SEIU COPE) spent more than $27 million in 2008 supporting his candidacy through advertising and other election communications.

In a press release announcing its most recent endorsement of the president, the union committed to engaging its members, their families and friends and the general public through a “robust campaign,” using phone banks, door-to-door canvassing and increased fundraising. The Wall Street Journal reported that Henry declined to say how much the union intends to spend in total. But, as of June 30, the group has spent more than $30 million of the more than $44 million it has raised for federal elections in 2012.

Back in July, SEIU partnered with Americans United for Change, a liberal advocacy group, to run television ads — in four Republican House districts — during the debate over whether to raise the federal debt ceiling. The ads described Republicans in Congress as “driving us toward the edge of the cliff,” “recklessly risking default” and “recklessly risking jobs.” And in August, SEIU launched another media campaign accusing Republicans of “voting to take care of the wealthy” instead of focusing on jobs for the middle class.

In 2010, we found that the group played “fast and loose with its facts” in a TV ad attacking then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, a moderate Democrat who faced a liberal primary challenger. SEIU ran several such false, misleading or distorted ads against the incumbent Democrat, who survived her primary challenge but lost in the general election. In addition to the midterm elections, the group also got involved in the health care debate and the Ohio governor’s race in 2010.

Update, July 25: We updated this item to reflect campaign finance data through June 30, 2012.