Why Did SEIU Give $100,000 to the Republican Governors Association?

Lindsay Beyerstein

An anti-McCain rally during the 2008 election. SEIU was one of the biggest supporters of the Obama campaign.

This post has been updated with new material

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) donated $100,000 to the Republican Governors Association (RGA) in June, according to public records. The union has given nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the RGA in the 2010 election cycle.

SEIU has assiduously cultivated a reputation as progressive union implacably opposed to the Republican agenda. The union spent more than any other outside group to elect Barack Obama. Then-president Andy Stern joined Obama in his box on inauguration day. During the fight for health care reform SEIU was one of Obama’s most powerful allies.

Yet for all its progressive rhetoric, SEIU appears to be quietly hedging its bets for the midterm elections. SEIU has given a total of $200,450 to the RGA in the 2010 election cycle ($100,450 in 2009 and $100,000 in 2010 so far.)

Documents provided by SEIU after the initial version of this post was published show that the union gave approximately $100,000 to the RGA in 2007, and $75,000 in 2008. (An earlier version of this post, based on the RGA’s disclosures to the IRS, states incorrectly that the SEIU gave a total of $450 to the RGA in the 2008 election cycle.)

After consulting with SEIU, WITT re-checked the RGA disclosures on file with the IRS and discovered the RGA had disclosed an additional $100,000 in2007 that we had initially overlooked. However, the RGA did not disclose any donations from SEIU during 2008. We think the RGA might have misreported in 2007 and 2008 based on our review of the IRS site,” said Michelle Ringuette, director of strategic services for SEIU. 

The RGA could not immediately be reached for comment.

The earlier version of this post concluded, based on the RGA’s apparently incomplete disclosures of the contributions it received in the 2008 election cycle, that SEIU had dramatically stepped up its donations to the RGA in the last two years. In fact, it appears that SEIU’s contributions have remained relatively steady between 2007 and 2010

Corrections aside, SEIU’s campaign contributions have historically gone overwhelmingly to Democrats. SEIU has given 100% of its campaign contributions to Democrats in the 2010 election cycle, according to the online database Open Secrets. In a typical election cycle, SEIU gives upwards of 94% of its federal campaign contributions to Democrats.

The RGA and the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), are 527 political organizations. Their missions are to elect Republican and Democratic governors, respectively. Unlike candidates and political action committees (PACs), 527s can take in unlimited amounts of money from corporations and unions. Contributions to 527s don’t usually get as much scrutiny as donations to campaigns or PACs.

The RGA is headed by Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, an arch conservative governor of a right to work state. Barbour said that the $20 billion escrow fund set up by oil giant BP to compensate victims of the Gulf oil spill might be bad” because BP needs that money to drill more oil wells.

Barbour also criticized the Obama administration’s multi-billion dollar aid package to save teaching jobs at the state level. 

It’s not unusual for big political players to spread their contributions between Democratic and Republican interests. SEIU has also contributed over $1.1 million to the DGA during the current election cycle. 

Backing both sides is a risky strategy in a critical election year, however – especially if SEIU members’ money is being spent against SEIU-endorsed candidates.

SEIU endorsed incumbent Pat Quinn for governor of Illinois to great fanfare. Meanwhile the RGA is sparing no expense backing Quinn’s opponent, Bill Brady, contributing $750,000 to Citizens for Bill Brady in the second quarter of 2010. The DGA gave Quinn about $40,000 in in-kind assistance during the same period.

Brady’s values are not in line with those of the average SEIU member. He attends Tea Parties on the campaign trail. As a state senator, he voted against raising the minimum wage. He opposes equal pay legislation and he’s against borrowing to meet public pension obligations.

We reached SEIU spokesperson Teddy Davis to ask why the SEIU is giving its members’ money to the RGA.

SEIU has made a number of contributions to the RGA over the years,” said Davis. While we recognize that the Republican leadership in Congress has declared war on working families with its leave no corporation behind’ policies, we continue to believe that it’s important to have an open dialogue with governors about the crisis workers are facing at the state and national level.”

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Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.
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