Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are seething at the Service Employees International Union for the group’s involvement in helping to defeat Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) in a primary last week, the latest manifestation of what some say is a larger problem that exists between the two groups.
Following a closed-door CBC meeting on Wednesday, the day after Wynn’s landslide loss to lawyer and community activist Donna Edwards (D), CBC Chairwoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) plans to reach out to SEIU President Andrew Stern and request a meeting to discuss caucus members’ concerns.
It is unclear whether Kilpatrick and a group of CBC members might meet with Stern or if he and some representatives of the union’s political team will be invited to address a CBC meeting.
Kilpatrick declined to comment on the SEIU matter for this story, because planning hasn’t moved beyond the CBC.
But Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and several other CBC members said there was palpable anger within the group over Wynn’s treatment. He said members believe the eight-term lawmaker did not have an anti-labor voting record and they are perplexed as to why he was so aggressively targeted.
“The Black Caucus members are very upset,” Cummings said last week. “I’m very upset. I think my fellow members think he didn’t deserve that.”
Anti-Wynn ads paid for by SEIU’s Committee on Political Education blanketed local airwaves in the final weeks before Tuesday’s primary. SEIU-COPE reported spending at least $875,000 to communicate to voters in Maryland’s 4th district on Edwards’ behalf, with the bulk of that going for television advertising.
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) called SEIU’s involvement in the Maryland race “puzzling” considering the CBC and labor groups have a long history of being allies.
“I think there’s some real questions about why they were so upset with Al Wynn,” Meeks said. “Members of the CBC want to know what’s up.”
He added: “Someone’s going to reach out to have a meeting and we’re going to find out what’s going on.”
According to the federal voting scorecard located on SEIU’s Web site, Wynn was one of three Maryland Democrats to score a 100 percent record in the first session of the 110th Congress. In the 109th Congress, Wynn scored a 70 percent voting record according to the union’s scorecard, the same as fellow Maryland Democratic Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger. Wynn voted against the union’s interests on an amendment related to Internet freedom, the estate tax repeal and the presidential line-item veto.
SEIU spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller said the union’s decision to back Edwards was based on a combination of factors, including the incumbent’s overall voting record, not solely his votes on labor issues.
Wynn voted in favor of the Iraq War resolution in 2002 and bankruptcy reform in 2005, two positions that Edwards hammered the incumbent on during the race. She also pointed to the hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate political contributions Wynn had accepted in an effort to paint him as more beholden to industry interests than his constituents.
“Our members did not feel that Al Wynn was representing their interests anymore,” Mueller said. “The Representative wasn’t listening to the constituents in his own district.”
SEIU did not endorse Edwards when she ran against Wynn in 2006. But Mueller said the union and its members were familiar with Edwards because she has been active in Maryland liberal causes for years.
One CBC member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the meeting they are seeking with SEIU and the members’ feelings are the result of a culmination of things.
The Member said that aside from the union’s involvement in Wynn’s primary, his colleagues are upset about the “glaring disparity” in SEIU’s political action committee giving to vulnerable Democrats compared to its contributions to CBC members, most of whom sit in politically safe districts but have strong voting records on labor issues.
“It’s very disheartening,” the CBC member said, pointing out that SEIU represents a membership that is largely made up of African-Americans and minorities while the union’s leadership is majority white.
“I just think it was wrong,” the Member said of SEIU’s decision to target Wynn.
The Member asserted that CBC members are less likely to receive the maximum contribution from SEIU’s PAC largely because they are considered safe politically.
According to CQ MoneyLine, SEIU doled out a little more than $1 million to federal candidates and PACs in 2007. Of that amount, at least $98,000 was distributed among 22 members of the CBC and their PACs.
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) said the CBC needs to have a broader discussion with SEIU about the union’s pattern of giving.
“We have a need to talk with our friends in labor about the disparity in giving to those of us who have tremendous records,” Hastings said.
Mueller said the union always seeks to put their members’ interests first when it comes to their political contributions and that voting records are just one factor in deciding whether “that support matches what our members want.”
“There are obviously a number of factors that we consider when we look at our support for different candidates,” Mueller said.
Wynn had no comment on the union’s involvement in his primary, saying it’s behind him now.
“For me, it’s done,” Wynn said in a brief interview Wednesday.
Late last week, the 1.9 million-member union endorsed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), a member of the CBC, in the presidential race.