Gov. Unions: Pennsylvania’s Biggest Political Spenders

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We all know that government unions are big players in American politics. However, new research gives us some perspective on just how big they play.

According to an analysis by Public Union Facts, government unions have given over $1.5 billion to political candidates over the past two decades. Union leadership, highlighting their sharp political bias, doled out 90 percent of that sum to Democrats.

Union involvement in politics comes as no shock in Pennsylvania, where the top 16 union political action committees (PAC) have spent $59.4 million since just 2007.

In fact, Public Union Facts lists Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf as the second largest recipient of union money in the nation. And their analysis doesn’t even capture the entire $10 million Wolf’s own campaign reports receiving from union PACs.

Yet, all of these shocking numbers leave out an important part of the story. Government union leaders far outspend every other special interest in Pennsylvania.

An analysis of the 2018 election cycle shows government union PACs spent $17.3 million on candidates. That’s more than double trial lawyers, the next largest spender. Indeed, government unions spent seven times more than the frequently maligned natural gas lobby.

(Infographic: Election 2018 Industry Comparison)

Why does this matter?

Many union members oppose union-supported candidates. For example, up to one-third of teachers’ union members voted against their leaders’ strongly endorsed candidate, Hillary Clinton.

In other words, union members are financing politicians and policies they don’t agree with.

Further underscoring union leaders’ political fixation, the top eight Pa. government unions spent $75.5 million of members’ dues on “political activities and lobbying” since 2007. Unbeknownst to many workers, their paychecks fund political mailers and communications, voter mobilization, and ideologically charged donations they may oppose.  

Union leaders should prioritize member representation. Sadly, buying political power takes precedent over members’ needs and opinions. Take the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which spent just 14 percent of their budget on representation in 2018.

Any allegation of outsized political influence must acknowledge the greatest special interest of them all. And elected officials have a duty to empower union members to understand and stand up for their rights.