The Mystery of the ‘Disappearing’ Soft Money

A previous report found that since enactment of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (the BCRA, also known as McCain-Feingold) in 2002, the Democratic Party benefited by gaining an increasing share of corporate campaign contributions -- and now shares the “party of big business” title with the GOP.

Missing from that discussion was longtime Democrat supporter Big Labor, which is a story in itself. After BCRA’s ban on soft money, Big Labor’s campaign contributions declined dramatically. Superficially, it may seem that Democrats tossed aside their traditional ally in order to cozy up with their new corporate friends. But the truth is somewhat different, and perhaps frightening.

After BCRA, Big Labor’s candidate contributions declined over 31%. But one of BCRA’s consequences was 527 groups, of which National Public Radio says:

They've been a powerful and wealthy force in the presidential campaign so far, despite the fact that the soft money they thrive on was to be outlawed by the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform in 2002.

Unlike the limits imposed by BRCA (e.g., $2,000 per candidate per election in 2002) 527s are limited only by the depth of an organization’s pockets. Campaign finance resource Open Secrets states:

527 groups are tax-exempt organizations that engage in political activities, often through unlimited soft money contributions. Most 527s on this list are advocacy groups trying to influence federal elections through voter mobilization efforts and so-called issue ads that tout or criticize a candidate's record.

It is clear that 527s were Big Labor’s saving grace, giving them an opportunity to spend money influencing elections that was supposedly banned by BCRA.

Leading the 527 contribution list is the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which Open Secrets calls “the largest and fastest growing member of the AFL-CIO.” SEIU contributed more money than any other organization, labor or corporate, for each election cycle since 2004, over $126.8 million total. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is the second-highest contributing union, at $16.3 million. Open Secrets says:

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is made up of 3,500 local unions representing 1.4 million members who work in public service and health care.

One of their top priorities is “battling efforts to privatize public sector jobs.”

This means that your tax dollars, earmarked to pay public employees, are being used to lobby for more government.