On Rachel Maddow's website yesterday (21 June 2012), her show highlighted a specific piece of commentary, As unions go, so goes the Democratic Party. In this five minute verbal escapade -- and yes, it's basically a quick trip to fantasy land -- Maddow suggests that Democrats will soon be unable to compete in terms of campaign spending, because the Republican Party is single handedly trying to "dismantle" Unions, the backbone of the Democratic Party's political base. Really? That's news to me.
First: Since when does outraising mean you are trying to "dismantle" Unions "state-by-state"? That would be like saying that the Unions that had outraised private sector entities in the past (and they surely had) were trying to destroy the private sector one company at a time! (Damn Capitalism.) Let's call a spade a spade, please. The goal -- on both sides -- is to outraise the other, and to outraise with the longer-term goal of getting the most critical and effective policy (not political shenanigans) into place. But let me not digress and confuse this with a policy discussion...heaven forbid.
Second: Maddow's graph of the top 2010 election spenders rightly puts both Republican and Democratic-funded entities on the chart. Maddow, and her very large chart, wrongly highlights the power of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Crossroads, and other non-Union entities. (To be fair, while it's true that Unions are mentioned, and even graphically displayed -- Maddow makes it abundantly clear that the Republican-backed groups are the big, bad wolf in the room.) To this point, allow me to please call Maddow out and remind the audience of a fact.
Fact: From 1989 to 2010, it's a fact that the teachers unions were disproportionally powerful with respect to election spending when compared to other political groups. You might be surprised to learn that in the pre-Citizens United era – when combining the contributions of the NEA and AFT – the teachers unions are hands down the number one political contributor to national campaigns over the entire time period from 1989 – 2010. In fact:
- From 1989 – 2010, the teachers unions, contributed $59 million dollars to Federal elections, with 95% going to Democratic candidates and 5% going to Republican or Independent candidates. (Note: this excludes "independent" expenditures made by groups on their own account, without coordination with a candidate or party.)
- From 1989-2010, the NEA and AFT spent more than AT&T, the National Association of Realtors, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Goldman Sachs, to name a few.
Yes, you read it correctly. Just one public sector Union group -- just one -- was spending more than that of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Goldman Sachs and a host of others in 2010. Feel free to check out the footnotes below.
Third: Lastly, let's think about Rachel Maddow's 99% comment -- her suggestion that 99% of Americans have absolutely no voice in elections because roughly only the 1% are funding elections. Well, where was this argument in 2008? I don't recall her show making this allegation when hope and change was rolling its way into DC... President Obama was outraising McCain -- and, no, he didn't do this solely by small donations.
Back to the 99% comment. We know that America's population stood at roughly 310 million people in 2011. We also know that in 2011, some 257 million people were of voting age (note, this does not mean that all 257 million were actually registered to vote or chose to vote, for that matter). Further to the point, it should not go unnoticed that in the 2008 cycle only 57 percent of those eligible to vote actually voted -- and in 2010 this number fell to an even lower 37 percent. The larger point here is that talking about the 99% to 1% is a moot point when half of America isn't even voting...
Lesson learned: both sides could do a better job at getting people to vote, let alone donate.
Source: Center for Responsive Politics at www.opensecrets.org/orgs/list.php?order=A.
 Political funding data from the Center for Responsive Politics. (www.opensecrets.org). AFT and NEA spending amounts added together to give a single total. See Chapter 9 of Terry Moe’s comprehensive study -- Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools (Brookings, 2011) – Table 9-2 for complete list of funding contributors.