government union spending

Government Unions Spent Over $708 Million on Near-Exclusively Leftist Causes

Harrisburg, Pa., December 7, 2023 — The four largest public-sector unions—the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)—spent $708.8 million on political activities across the country during the 2021-22 election cycle, according to a new report from the Commonwealth Foundation. The research combines campaign finance data at the state and federal levels with union tax filings to paint a complete picture of public-sector union political activity.

The report, titled “The Battle for Worker Freedom: How Government Unions Fund Politics Across the Country,” exposes the substantial influence that public-sector union executives have in shaping the national political landscape and advocating for a progressive agenda in red and blue states.

Its findings, moreover, challenge the typical union narrative that membership dues are not used for politics. Government union political action committee (PAC) contributions accounted for just 40 percent of political spending, with union membership dues accounting for the remaining 60 percent. In many states, union dues are deducted automatically through taxpayer-funded public payroll systems, raising serious questions about union executives’ accountability to membership, who may be unaware of their role in funding executives’ political projects.

Additionally, the report confirms that union executives overwhelmingly choose to fund leftist causes. Nearly 96 percent of union money contributed to PACs went to support Democratic candidates and organizations for use in federal and state campaigns. In short, membership dues support a thriving ecosystem of progressive-oriented independent expenditure committees, SuperPACs, and dark money groups.

David Osborne, the senior fellow of Labor Policy at the Commonwealth Foundation and co-author of the report, stated, “Our research illuminates the considerable political influence wielded by government unions, both in Washington, D.C., and in states throughout the nation. Government unions use this power not only to advance leftist causes but also to elect political leaders who will protect their interests and influence. The result, unfortunately, is that federal, state, and local governments are increasingly led by politicians who care more about union executives than union members or taxpayers.”

Among the individual recipients of the public-sector unions’ political advocacy, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro emerged as the highest beneficiary by far, receiving over $4.5 million from the NEA, AFT, AFSCME, and SEIU during the covered cycle. The report identifies California Attorney General Rob Bonta as the second-highest recipient at nearly $1.3 million, while Illinois Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson secured prominent positions as the largest legislative and local recipients, respectively.

The four unions collectively outspent major industries at the federal level, surpassing even the defense, transportation, and construction sectors, and ranked 10th in overall spending. At the state level, union political spending was highest in Illinois at $27.9 million, followed by California ($24.9 million), Minnesota ($13.2 million), Pennsylvania ($12.1 million), and Washington ($7.5 million). Together, these five states accounted for nearly 60 percent of all state PAC expenditures.

You can read the full Commonwealth Foundation report here.


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