Politics & Policy

Wisconsin Democrats: Union Yes!

Wisconsin’s Democrats know on which side their bread is buttered.

For Wisconsin’s Democratic state senators, it’s simply bad business to offend labor unions.

Thirteen of the fourteen have received generous contributions from unions over the years; their cumulative donations range from $5,750 to $113,603. And anything less than, well, fleeing the state in order to prevent Gov. Scott Walker’s public-union-busting bill from passing could threaten those vital cash flows.

#ad#“Judging from the reaction, the emotion you see on the capitol square, [Walker’s legislation] is obviously something labor unions care deeply about,” says Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute, a Wisconsin-based free-market think tank. “I suspect when they’re communicating with these individual senators, they’re making it quite clear what they would like to see happen and what they would like to not see happen.”

If the unions are communicating, the senators are likely listening attentively: Those union donations constitute a significant chunk of their campaign funds, according to the data compiled by Wisconsin Democracy Campaign..

The outlier here is Sen. Tim Cullen (15th district), who has taken less than a dollar from PACs or political committees of any kind. But with him excluded, labor unions are responsible for a large percentage of these senators’ contributions from political-action committees (PACs) and political committees (which together constitute 25 percent of the donations to these senators tracked by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign). Aside from Cullen, Sen. Jim Holperin (12th district) had the lowest proportion of union-funded contributions from PACs or political committees: 24 percent.

Sen. Spencer Coggs (6th district) topped the list with 73 percent. And of the 13 Democrats in the state senate who accepted labor-union funds, ten received a third or more of their PAC or political-committee donations from unions. Five have collected over half of such donations from unions.

And that’s only looking at money directly given to the candidates. Unions also spent heavily on independent initiatives, for example television ads. The Wisconsin Education Association Council’s PAC spent nearly $1.6 million supporting state-level Democratic candidates during the 2010 election cycle. Other unions also spent in support of Democratic candidates, although in smaller amounts: $45,000 ($65,000 total, with the remainder supporting a Republican candidate) from the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, $13,000 from the International Union of Operating Engineers, and a little over $9,000 from Madison Teachers Inc.

Other organizations, while not directly affiliated with unions, have made it clear that they strenuously oppose the proposed limits on collective bargaining for some public employees. Advancing Wisconsin, a progressive interest group that spent nearly $560,000 in support of Democratic candidates in the past election, asked its Facebook fans earlier this month to sign up “to volunteer against Walker’s attempt to take away public employee rights!”

Building a Stronger Wisconsin, whose PAC spent $42,000 in the 2010 cycle, all in opposition to GOP candidates, commissioned and released a poll this month that showed two-thirds of Wisconsin voters opposed Governor Walker’s proposal to eliminate some collective-bargaining rights. And the group made it clear that they opposed Walker’s initiative in the press release accompanying the poll: “Building a Stronger Wisconsin is releasing the poll results today so that legislators and the governor are clear about how Wisconsinites across the state feel about this proposal as they debate and still have a chance to change it to reflect the will of the people,” the group’s executive director, Randy Nash, was quoted as saying.

Sharing those sentiments is another organization, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, which spent $27,000 during the 2010 elections in support of Democratic candidates. Citizen Action callsWalker’s collective-bargaining proposal a “radical attack on the middle class.”

The absent Democratic senators are preventing Wisconsin from launching initiatives that will help close a budget shortfall. But they are ensuring that their own campaign coffers will be well stocked during the next election.

— Katrina Trinko is an NRO staff reporter.

Katrina TrinkoKatrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...

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