WASHINGTON -- The largest union-affiliated super PAC has raised $5.4 million to date and has $4.1 million in cash on hand. But if Democratic lawmakers are expecting a slice of that pie, they shouldn't hold their breath.
Officials involved in the newly formed Workers' Voice -- the super PAC outfit of the AFL-CIO -- said on Thursday that they would not be making any direct donations to candidates running for office. Instead, the money will go into supporting an extensive network of 14,000 "work-sites" designed to facilitate the largest grassroots operation the labor community has ever undertaken.
The investment is one of fiscal necessity. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler told reporters on Wednesday that Workers' Voice expected to be outspent by a 20-to-1 ratio by conservative super PACs, making traditional campaign activities, such as television advertising, an unrealistic investment. Instead, the money will go towards voter-to-voter contact and initiatives designed to increase voter turnout. On these fronts, Workers' Voice will be aided by the same Citizens United decision that's allowed for the growth of super PACs. Unions are no longer restricted from talking to workers outside their shops, meaning that the on-the-ground operations have a larger target zone.
One thing that isn't in the cards, officials said, is turning the super PAC on moderate Democrats. Purging the party of its ideological heretics was a top labor priority during the height of the health care debate and into the lead-up to the 2010 elections. It's what led to labor's unsuccessful $10 million effort to defeat former Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the Arkansas Democratic primary. (Lincoln later lost her seat to a Republican.)
But when laying out the super PAC's objectives on Wednesday, officials didn't mention the idea of holding Democrats accountable. Asked why finding more labor-friendly primary opponents for certain candidates wasn't on the agenda, AFL-CIO political director Michael Podhorzer explained that Republicans had already helped them clear the proverbial under-brush.
"The Republicans in 2010 took care of that for us because several dozen Democrats who should have been, who would have been primary-ed, are not in office any more. It is a different landscape," Podhorzer said. "[2009-2010] was an environment where there was a strong Democratic majority and the opportunity to get a better Democrat on the ballot. But frankly right now the issue is less about primary-ing Democrats than trying to undo the damage that has been done over the last year and a half at the state level and the national level and to recruit and support candidates that will do that."