Union-business fight could impact campaign donations

Votes on the Employee Free Choice Act, which labor and business describe as their biggest battleground in years, could have a major impact on political contributions in the 2008 cycle.

Several business groups plan at least to consider withholding contributions through their political action committees (PACs) to candidates who vote for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would make it easier for workers to form unions. That could pose problems from Democrats who voted for the measure, as well as the 13 House Republicans who voted for the bill in March.

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“My PAC won’t give money to anyone who’s voting for this bill,” said Jade West, senior vice president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW).

Other business groups are less categorical, but they still make it clear that they will look seriously at EFCA votes when making decisions on endorsements and campaign contributions.

Stopping EFCA is the top legislative priority for the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), according to the group’s senior director of legislative affairs, Danielle Ringwood. “ABC members would probably have a very hard time supporting candidates who aren’t in line with our views,” Ringwood said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce makes its decisions based on support for or opposition to the Chamber’s entire congressional agenda, according to William Miller, a Chamber vice president and political director. He said EFCA votes will be very important in that calculus, but decisions will not be limited to one vote.

Similarly, John Eisen of the International Foodservice Distributors Association stopped short of promising not to support any candidates who vote for EFCA. But he did say positions on EFCA will play a major role in decisions on candidate support.

David French of the International Franchise Association said a single vote rarely leads to a withdrawal of support. At the same time, he noted that no issue has “buried the needle in terms of intensity” like EFCA. “I’m not sure anybody gets a pass on this issue,” he said.

Labor is also prepared to look closely at EFCA votes. But Bill Samuel, legislative director for the AFL-CIO, said he was not prepared to be categorical in stating that his union would not support any candidates who voted against EFCA. He did say the vote would “weigh very heavily” into AFL-CIO decisions on whom to endorse and whether to provide other forms of support.

Some groups active in lobbing against EFCA, such as West’s NAW, generally have not given donations to those in the House who voted for EFCA. But there are many exceptions.

For example, the PAC for the International Franchise Association (IFA) gave Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) $4,000 this year, and the National Retail Federation gave Davis $1,000 in the 2005-06 cycle, according to the PoliticalMoneyLine.com, a website that tracks donations.

The National Restaurant Association’s PAC gave $10,000 and the International Foodservice Distributors’ PAC gave $1,000 to Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) in the last cycle.

However, Matheson and Davis, like many Democrats, also receive tens of thousands of dollars in support from organized labor PACs. Both voted for EFCA.

On the Republican side, the IFA PAC donated $2,000 during the 2005-06 cycle to Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.), one of the few House Republicans to support EFCA.

The ABC PAC gave Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) $5,000 in the 2005-2006 cycle, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.
But McCotter still supported EFCA — a notable vote because as chairman of the Republican House Policy Committee, McCotter is a member of the House GOP leadership team.

While votes for EFCA, particularly by Republicans, could lead to some difficult decisions for business-group PACs, West said candidates who oppose EFCA could win support in the future from business groups.

Democrats who vote against EFCA will “endear themselves” to business groups, West said.

Only two House Democrats — Reps. Dan Boren (Okla.) and Gene Taylor (Miss.) — voted against EFCA. Boren has received $5,000 from the ABC PAC for the 2007-08 cycle, but he has also gotten contributions from labor groups.

All of the business groups mentioned in this story are members of the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, the umbrella business group fighting EFCA as it heads toward a Senate vote. While the bill is not expected to get the 60 votes necessary to end an expected Senate GOP filibuster, business groups hope to hold support to as little as possible with the hope that it will not come up again.

“We want to kill it this year and kill it dead so it will be unappetizing for labor to bring it back,” West said.

No Republican senators have signed on as cosponsors to date, and four Democrats — Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Ken Salazar (Colo.) — have so far not signed on as cosponsors. All of these senators have received contributions from groups on both sides of the issue, setting up potentially difficult decisions for both the office-holders and business and labor groups.

In talking to members of the Senate about EFCA, West emphasized that her group is not saying it will support or not support members based on their votes. “We don’t tell members that we will or will not give them money based on their votes, but it only makes sense for us to support elected officials who cast pro-business votes,” she said.