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Unions Making Major Push for Democrats

Even as the AFL-CIO braces for losses among its Democratic allies in Congress, the union federation is mobilizing its grass-roots operation in the weeks leading up to the midterm elections. The group will flood its members with mailers and plans to dispatch staffers across the country.

A memo released Monday from the union’s political director, Karen Ackerman, outlines the steps the AFL-CIO is taking to try to energize its members in pivotal House and Senate races.

“Outside the political party committees themselves, we have the largest political mobilization operation in the country,” she said.

The purpose of the memo was to update union officials with the “state of the field of our united AFL-CIO’s political program,” she said.

In the memo, Ackerman acknowledges the challenging political environment this year. “I’m not saying there won’t be losses,” she said. “There will be.”

She attributed the difficulties to the economic climate as well as to record amounts of money spent by corporations and conservative groups.

To counter the effort on the right, the union has been ratcheting up its own activity, including sending out 4.1 million pieces of mail to union members this week and freeing up 2,000 union staffers to work on campaigns. The union has sent out 18.6 million pieces of mail this cycle.

Ackerman’s memo says that between Oct. 14 and Wednesday, the union’s leaders, including AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, are traveling to eight states: Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington.

AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale said the effort this year rivals what the union normally does in a presidential year rather than midterm elections, when political activity is generally less intense.

The unions are trying to fill gaps caused by decreased giving from traditional Democratic donors, whose response has been “very muted,” he said.

The memo suggests the union has begun energizing a membership that as recently as this summer was not enthusiastic about the election. It states that in July, union members favored Democrats by 8 points. By Oct. 10, that support had risen to 25 points. Ackerman argues that stronger union support was helping a number of Senate Democratic candidates, including Rep. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania and Gov. Joe Manchin in West Virginia. Both are in competitive races.

The AFL-CIO has not divulged its total political budget for the year. “We don’t want the other side to know what we are up to,” Vale said.

But the AFL-CIO and affiliated unions will ultimately have to report their total spending to the Labor Department and other government agencies.

So far this election cycle, the political action committees for all unions have contributed $65 million to federal candidates, political parties and leadership PACs, according to a CQ MoneyLine analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. The vast majority of those donations have gone to Democrats. The unions have also made more than $10 million in independent expenditures on election-related activities, according to CQ MoneyLine.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union have also set up 527 operations for election activities. Those two union affiliates are coordinating most of the advertising, while the AFL-CIO runs much of the ground game. The 527 group affiliated with AFSCME has spent almost $24 million this cycle, while SEIU has spent $8 million, according to reports filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

Alex Knott contributed to this report.

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