Unions, Outspent in Washington, Battle in States

Labor union lobbying, which has increased gradually over the last decade, reached a high last year at nearly $51 million.

Data analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics show that 106 unions employed 399 lobbyists in 2011.

Here are the top 10 spenders:

Union D.C. Lobbying 2011
National Education Assn $7,676,415
AFL-CIO $3,600,000
American Fedn of St/Cnty/Munic Employees $2,900,000
United Auto Workers $2,060,000
Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union $1,840,000
Air Line Pilots Assn $1,741,000
Service Employees International Union $1,578,120
Teamsters Union $1,483,500
American Federation of Teachers $1,471,065
United Transportation Union $1,377,352

Despite sizeable expenditures by major unions, labor is a comparatively small spender compared to other interests in Washington.

Public sector unions, which have been under attack by conservative governors and legislators, pay out the most. Their lobby expenditures in Washington totaled $19 million last year, or 37 percent of total spending.

It’s noteworthy that two of lobbying organizations on our top 10 list are teachers’ unions.

Yet it’s difficult to show the flip side because there is no comparable national organization representing public schools. The American Association of School Administrators spent just $350,000 last year. Much of the opposition to teachers’ unions has come from outside public education – from conservative advocacy groups and super PACs and from many in the charter school movement.

Point-counterpoint can be more clearly seen in corporate America. For instance, while the UAW spent about $2 million, the top automakers and their trade group spent $33 million.

Automaker or trade group D.C. lobbying 2011
General Motors $10,995,000
Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers $6,802,300
Ford Motor $6,657,000
Toyota Motor Corp $4,365,000
Chrysler $4,270,553
Total $33,089,853

While the Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union spent $1.8 million, major aerospace companies lobbied to the tune of almost $53 million.

Company D.C. lobbying 2011
Boeing Co $15,910,000
Lockheed Martin $15,166,845
United Technologies $14,150,000
BAE Systems $4,230,000
European Aeronautic Defence & Space $3,500,000
Total $52,956,845

Beyond expenditures, a striking difference between unions and business is in representation by former members of the House and Senate. While ex-members of Congress represent many major corporations, none registered to lobby for unions in 2011.

Organized labor plays a larger role in elections.

Union PACs have contributed almost $25 million to candidates and committees in the current election cycle. Democrats received 87 percent of the donations.

The AFL-CIO, responding to the many conservative groups raising millions of dollars, this month announced a new super PAC. Workers’ Voice reported $4 million in the bank at the end of the first quarter. It had spent $1.1 million.

Yet unions are still massively outgunned by business interests. When the Center for Responsive Politics categorized donors by category – business, labor, or ideological interests, it found that business donations outnumbered labor by a ratio of 15 to 1.

Many of labor’s recent battles have been fought at the state level, epitomized by protests and a gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin and anti-collective bargaining legislation in other states.

Political spending is especially high in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker is battling a recall election resulting largely from his advocacy of anti-union legislation.

The AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education spent nearly $5.8 million in the state last year, according to filings with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board. AFSCME spent $3 million and the SEIU spent $1.5 million.

The battle has also been pitched in Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich signed anti-collective bargaining legislation last year. Voters repealed the measure in November.

Ohio Secretary of State filings there show that the AFL-CIO and its affiliates spent more than $630,000 in 2011.


  1. James Williams says:

    As a retired Union electrician I take offense to your obvious bias. First, much of the reason corporations hire lobbyists has nothing to do with labor, and both often support the same legislators. Second, your description of Scott Walkers recall election is false. He is not against unions. He is against certain union practices which can cripple the State of Wisconsin

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