Which Outside Group Is Spending the Most on the Election?

by Daniel Foster

Greg Sargent says the right is dwarfing the left on “undisclosed” expenditures: $75 million to $10 million. But when you include public-sector unions, which also don’t disclose individual donors, it isn’t even close. The top five outside groups by expenditures include three public-sector unions: AFSCME, SEIU, and NEA.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is now the biggest outside spender of the 2010 elections, thanks to an 11th-hour effort to boost Democrats that has vaulted the public-sector union ahead of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and a flock of new Republican groups in campaign spending.

The 1.6 million-member AFSCME is spending a total of $87.5 million on the elections after tapping into a $16 million emergency account to help fortify the Democrats’ hold on Congress. Last week, AFSCME dug deeper, taking out a $2 million loan to fund its push. The group is spending money on television advertisements, phone calls, campaign mailings and other political efforts, helped by a Supreme Court decision that loosened restrictions on campaign spending.

“We’re the big dog,” said Larry Scanlon, the head of AFSCME’s political operations. “But we don’t like to brag.”

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The union is spending heavily this year because “a lot of people are attacking public-sector workers as the problem,” said AFSCME President Gerald McEntee. “We’re spending big. And we’re damn happy it’s big. And our members are damn happy it’s big—it’s their money,” he said.

Do the math. Of the top five groups, public-sector unions have spent about $172 million, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads have spent just $130 million.