National Labor Relations Board Uncertainty Benefits Big Corporate Donors: Report

07/02/2013 02:31 pm ET | Updated Jul 02, 2013

WASHINGTON -- Republican senators who support a lawsuit that could shut down the National Labor Relations Board have received more than $6 million over the years from corporations that have already benefited from the lawsuit, according to a new analysis of campaign finance data.

Assembled by Public Campaign, a non-profit that tracks money in politics, the report analyzes corporate, executive and PAC donations from the 38 companies that have already cited the lawsuit, Noel Canning, in legal efforts to fight the labor board's actions. Of the 45 GOP senators who signed a brief in support of Noel Canning, all have received some amount of money from the corporations, and five have raked in more than a quarter of a million dollars apiece from the companies over the course of their careers.

Adam Smith, a Public Campaign spokesman, said the NLRB case illuminates the flipside of corporations benefiting from sweetheart legislation -- corporations benefiting from government at a standstill.

"When we talk about special interests in Washington, it's not just earmarks and who gets legislation passed. It's who can bottle up important appointments or bottle up an agency," Smith said. "It's an inherent conflict of interest: every day they're raising money from donors who have a stake in legislation or appointments."

The NLRB, which is tasked with enforcing labor law on companies and workers, was thrown into limbo earlier this year when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled on the Noel Canning lawsuit, deciding that Obama's three recess appointments to the five-member labor board last year violated the Constitution. Republicans and business groups have blasted the labor board for its left-leaning rulings under the Obama administration, and the White House has relied upon the recess appointments simply to keep the NLRB functioning in the face of GOP opposition.

Although the board has continued to operate in the wake of the Noel Canning ruling, all of its decisions over the past year and half could ultimately be undone if the Supreme Court affirms the decision, which would mean the board didn't have the necessary quorum to handle cases.

In the meantime, scores of companies have already filed motions arguing that Noel Canning should undermine or invalidate decisions that they didn't like. Among the largest political donors who've cited the decision are General Motors, which has contested a board decision that part of its social media policy is illegal; manufacturer Caterpillar, which has challenged a decision that it ran afoul of labor law in the wake of a worker's death; and big-box retailer Target, which has fought a judge's order for a new union election at a store in New York.

The largest recipient of campaign donations in the analysis was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). A skilled fundraiser who's been in office since 1985, McConnell has received $606,000 from the 38 companies included in the report. McConnell is followed by Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), with $514,250; Susan Collins (R-Maine), with $407,605; Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), with $318,447; and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), with $276,818.

Of course, campaign donations from such companies benefit lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and some corporations who stand to benefit from Noel Canning, such as Cablevision, actually send more money to Democrats than to Republicans.

But Smith said the issue ultimately boils down to access.

"The owners of these companies that benefit from an inoperable NLRB can buy access and influence, and workers who are the most impacted just can't buy that influence," he said. The Noel Canning decision "makes it much easier to go to the PAC's that haven't donated yet and say, 'Hey, we're helping you out in the Senate and would like you to help us out."

Worried about the prospect of an inoperable board, unions have been pressuring Democrats to resolve the bottleneck on federal nominees, urging them to use the so-called "nuclear option" to break a GOP filibuster if need be. The White House now has a full slate of nominees before the Senate, but GOP leadership has signalled that they may choose to block two of them who have been sitting on the board under the contested recess appointments. If they do so, the board will be non-functioning when another member's term expires in August.

In March, HuffPost reported on how the Noel Canning decision has impacted rank-and-file workers with cases pending before the board. A group of miners in West Virginia, for instance, has now been waiting nine years for the board to resolve a union-busting case that left many of them unemployed. The NLRB's most recent decision on the miners' case, which would have reinstated them on the job with backpay, has been stayed due to the Noel Canning lawsuit.

Read Public Campaign's report here.

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