AFL-CIO plans to expand labor’s 'social network' with super-PAC

Michael Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO’s political director, said the federation took stock after many of its endorsed candidates lost in the 2010 elections and knew it had to adapt for the next campaign season.

“When we look at what had happened across the county, we realized that if workers and the middle class were going to have a chance to recover a voice and power again in America, we had to adapt new strategies,” said Podhorzer. “We were outspent 20 to one last time. We will probably be outspent more than 20 to one this time. But we are going to out-organize them 20 to one.”

Workers’ Voice plans to incorporate users’ Facebook and Twitter accounts to help with get-out-the-vote efforts. Further, the group will use a Click-to-Call online tool, which allow users to make phone-banking calls directly off the group’s website.

That should increase contact with voters on labor’s favored issues and candidates.

Podhorzer shared data showing that of voters who are contacted three or more times by organizers, more than 86 percent will vote. The AFL-CIO political director said unions are confident in the group’s approach after having collected voter data during their successful drive last year to repeal Ohio’s Senate Bill 5, which would have curbed public workers’ collective bargaining rights.

“We know this works,” Podhorzer said.

Workers’ Voice will report having raised $5.4 million since its creation on its 2012 first-quarter report to the Federal Election Commission, according to Podhorzer. Contributions to the super-PAC have come from the AFL-CIO’s affiliated unions so far but the group now plans to amp up its online fundraising from small donors as well.

Podhorzer decried repeatedly the focus on money, and said the group will raise what it needs to maintain its activism. He said more than 30,000 volunteers collected one million signatures to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) “and no was paid.”

Workers’ Voice has no plans to contribute to candidates or political committees, but will be a year-round operation that will focus on labor’s issues after Election Day.

Due to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision — often blasted by union officials — the super-PAC will be able to take unlimited contributions from labor groups.

Shuler said the AFL-CIO and other unions have benefited from the Citizens United ruling by removing legal barriers that allows Workers’ Voice to contact non-union workers. That said, the labor federation has criticized the Supreme Court decision since it has led to a flood of money into the election process.

“In fact, Citizens United was a bad decision. We are still looking for ways to fix it,” Shuler said. The secretary-treasurer said the super-PAC will not be able to compete with Republican-leaning groups, like American Crossroads, when it comes television advertising.

“The thing we can compete on is people power, boots on the ground,” Shuler said.

For 2012, labor has made a point to stress its political independence from its traditional Democratic allies. Several unions, however, have endorsed President Obama for reelection and are already attacking Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in several primary states.

Unlike some instances in 2010, unions’ support for challengers to Democratic incumbents will likely not happen. Podhorzer said there weren’t many Democrats left to challenge in primaries.

“Several dozen Democrats who would have been primaried are not in office anymore. It’s a different landscape now,” Podhorzer said.