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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center


playersguide2014_135pxPolitical leanings: Democratic/Liberal

Spending target: Unknown

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is a federation of 56 labor unions. It claims to represent 12.5 million members.

The AFL-CIO has been one of the highest-spending and most politically active unions over the years. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the AFL-CIO spent almost $9 million on independent expenditures and communication costs during the 2012 campaign cycle. The vast majority of its spending has gone to either support Democrats or oppose Republicans.

Despite declining union membership in the U.S. — the percentage of workers in unions is at the lowest level since 1916 — the AFL-CIO and its affiliates continue to contribute heavily directly to political campaigns and organizations. The group, which makes campaign contributions through AFL-CIO COPE Political Contributions Committee and more than 25 affiliated state and local PACs, contributed almost $22.6 million in the 2012 cycle — with $13.3 million going to 527 committees, $8 million to outside spending groups, and nearly $800,000 in direct contributions to federal candidates. The organization has been listed by the Center for Responsive Politics as one of the top all-time donors since 1989. The AFL-CIO and its affiliates have contributed almost $4.7 million so far for 2014.

In April 2012, the AFL-CIO created a super PAC, Workers’ Voice, “to build an independent voice for the working and middle class who are the 99 percent.” That year, the PAC — which received most of its funding from labor groups — spent $6.3 million on independent expenditures and $500,000 on an online ad campaign against the GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. In all, AFL-CIO affiliates spent about $4 million in independent expenditures on the presidential campaign.

The union has focused much of its recent efforts on immigration — launching a $1 million ad campaign in November 2013. The TV ads targeted House Republicans who represent districts with large Latino populations. In January, the Washington Post reported that AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka slammed House Republicans’ proposal to overhaul immigration laws because it wouldn’t offer citizenship to the 11 million people estimated to be living in the country illegally.

In addition to federal races, the labor organization has said it plans to focus on six gubernatorial races in 2014 — targeting Republicans in Florida, Michigan, Maine, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. AFL-CIO Political Director Michael Podhorzer told Politico, “[w]hile a lot of the attention here in the Beltway has been around who’s going to control the Senate or what’s going to happen in the House, for most Americans, what’s really important in 2014 is going to be what happens to the governors who have pursued scorched-earth policies in their states.”

So far, in the 2014 election cycle, the AFL-CIO has contributed nearly $5.4 million to candidates, party committees, 527 committees and outside spending groups. The group has also spent over $5.5 million on lobbying. According to the New York Times, Podhorzer told reporters at a news briefing, in February, that it was reasonable to assume that labor groups would spend at least $300 million in 2014.