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AFSCME gets in the game

AFSCME hits former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thomspon, the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, for joining Washington powerhouse Akin Gump.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees joins the political spending spree with more than $2.8 million in new ads, Federal Election Commission reports show.

While the union itself has already made a handful of ad buys this election, Thursday’s buy represents the first major round of ads this season from AFSCME’s political action committee, AFSCME PEOPLE (which stands for “Public Employees Organized to Promote Legislative Equality”).

AFSCME PEOPLE launched three ads:

  • Washington Changed Us,” which opposes former Wisconsin Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson’s senate run against Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin. The ad cost $966,000;
  • Side,” which opposes the re-election of Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who is being challenged by Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley. The ad cost $1.1 million;
  • Mortgages,” a radio ad that opposes Heller and cost $105,000.

AFSCME the union also spent $768,000 on “Gamble,” opposing Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., who is challenging Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.

The anti-Thompson ad rests on a claim that he “sold his influence to healthcare companies” as a member of a D.C. lobbying firm. Thompson, a lawyer by training, did join Washington powerhouse lobbying and law firm Akin Gump, but he was never a registered lobbyist. Politifact rated the claim "half true."

The anti-Heller ad says that he sided with Wall Street over Nevada homeowners. Heller voted to end a mortgage relief plan for unemployed homeowners, to end the Federal Housing Administration Refinancing Program and to end the Home Affordable Modification Program.

AFSCME is one of the country’s largest unions and represents more than 1.6 million public service employees who belong to about 3,400 local chapters.

AFSCME’s PAC is subject to contribution limits but also has the freedom to contribute directly to candidates’ committees. The union itself, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, may make unlimited campaign expenditures so long as it does not coordinate with any candidates.

The PAC had a healthy $8.6 million on hand at the end of July, according to the most recent FEC report. It brought in nearly $600,000 in July, a low month for the PAC. Nonetheless, the both the union and its PAC are still dwarfed by major super PACs and politically active nonprofits.

To put it in context, AFSCME PEOPLE has spent $2.2 million, and AFSCME itself has spent about $4.8 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future, the top-spending outside group, has spent $82.5 million. The second highest spender, conservative nonprofit Americans for Prosperity, has spent $30.8 million.

Like most unions, AFSCME overwhelmingly supports Democratic candidates.

In other union news, SEIU COPE, the PAC of the Service Employees International Union, reported spending $140,000 on ad production and airtime for ads opposing Republican Keith Rothfus, who is trying to unseat Rep. Mark Critz, the Democrat representing Pennsylvania’s 12th District.

The ad, “Keith Rothfus is Not on Our Side,” launched Sept. 4.

In other outside spending news:

  • Priorities USA Action, a super PAC supporting President Barack Obama, spent$1.7 million on ads opposing Romney.
  • The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched ads in eight contested congressional races in New York, California, Arizona, Illinois, Ohio and Texas. The cost of the buys is unknown. Watch all the ads here.
  • YG Action Fund, a conservative super PAC tied to Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and has received significant funding from super donor Sheldon Adelson, counters the DCCC campaign with $2 million in ad buys against House Democrats, Politico reports. The group has not yet reported the expenditures to the FEC.
  • The Democratic Senatorial Congressional Committee criticizes Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., in an ad released Thursday for the Republican senatorial candidate’s support of Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan. Berg faces former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp in the fall for the North Dakota seat.
  • Conservative nonprofit Americans for Prosperity continued its spending spree with a $200,000 on ads opposing Obama.
  • Majority PAC, which supports Democratic senatorial candidates, spent $187,000 on ads opposing Richard Mourdock, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Indiana and Berg.
  • House Majority PAC, supporting Democratic candidates for the U.S. House, spent nearly $500,000 on ads opposing Republican candidates in four congressional districts.
  • American Crossroads, a conservative super PAC co-founded by Republican strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, spent $712,000 on the placement of online ads opposing Obama.
  • The 60 Plus Association, a more conservative version of AARP, reported spending $317,000 on mailers opposing Obama.
  • The Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama released an ad featuring voters cheering Romney’s choice of a running mate in “Americans are Celebrating Paul Ryan.”

About the author

Rachael Marcus is a reporter with the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit, non-partisan independent investigative news outlet, which contributes campaign finance coverage to Marketplace. For more of their reporting on money and politics go to publicintegrity.org.

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