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Unions back super-PAC supporting Republican centrists

Labor unions are funneling cash to a super-PAC tied to a former lawmaker that is working to elect centrist Republicans to Congress.

Unions have contributed about $765,000 so far to the Defending Main Street Super-PAC, which is associated with former GOP lawmaker Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), according to Federal Election Commission records.

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The total, while small in the new big money era of campaign politics, is an unusually strong show of support from labor for a Republican venture.

LaTourette was considered one of the more labor-friendly Republicans while on Capitol Hill, and those relationships are paying dividends in his new career as a lobbyist and Republican power broker.

“During my 18 years in the House, I never believed you have to be anti-union to be a good Republican,” LaTourette told The Hill.

Three of LaTourette’s biggest union donors during his congressional career — the Laborers’ International Union Of North America (LIUNA), the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters — have contributed $750,000 to the Main Street super-PAC so far.

The labor support for LaTourette’s venture has rankled conservative activists, who are working to defeat centrist candidates in the GOP primaries. 

“Now that he’s cashed out and makes his living as a lobbyist, he’s probably hoping to sign these unions up as clients, so he can line his own pockets with their money while helping what are essentially Democrats get reelected to the House,” said Barney Keller, a spokesman for the conservative Club for Growth.

Dan Holler with Heritage Action for America said, “I suspect conservative voters will be skeptical of candidates receiving support from LaTourette’s outfit.”

LaTourette has been busy in the private sector since leaving Capitol Hill.

He leads a lobby firm, McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies, and took the helm of the Main Street Partnership. LaTourette is also tied to Main Street Advocacy and the Defending Main Street Super-PAC, which plan to pool $8 million together to protect centrist GOP lawmakers from Tea Party challengers this election year.   

The super-PAC reported having $881,000 cash on hand by the end of last year, with the bulk of those funds coming from unions.

LaTourette said he’s thankful for labor’s support.

“Main Street is committed to electing solution-oriented, center-right Republicans to the House. We are grateful to the unions who want to help us do that and to paraphrase Rhett Butler — ‘Frankly, I don’t give a damn’ — about the criticism,” LaTourette said. 

Union officials said they have been in close contact with LaTourette about which Republicans to support in 2014, and many said they would like to contribute to his cause.

“Since he has been out of office, we have had multiple conversations with him about candidates, so we can help resolve the gridlock in Congress,” said James Stem, national legislative director of the SMART Transportation Division.

“It’s not an unfair statement to say that I regularly coordinate our efforts with LaTourette. I trust his counsel. I initiate the conservation with him to compare notes and coordinate our efforts.”

LaTourette kept an open door to labor while in Congress. He supported the Employee Free Choice Act and had a 48 percent lifetime rating from the AFL-CIO in 2012 — making him one of the highest-ranked Republicans by the labor federation.

“Clearly, that attitude puts me in a position where union officials will answer my phone call, and I’m grateful that some have responded to our request for help,” LaTourette said.

Several of LaTourette’s biggest campaign donors during his political career were unions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — including the Air Line Pilots Association, the Ironworkers and other building trade unions, which tend to have more conservative members. Union officials said LaTourette would protect prevailing wage or “Davis-Bacon” laws and protect labor agreements from GOP attacks.

Tom Flynn, the Carpenters’ political director, said Davis-Bacon laws were created by Republicans to protect the middle class “and during his 18 years in Congress representing the voters of Ohio, Steve LaTourette was one of the strongest advocates for those values.”

Unions, like business groups, are frustrated with the hard-line positions of many on Capitol Hill. Last year, Congress couldn’t prevent a government shutdown or stop deep budget sequester cuts, often due to opposition from Tea Party insurgents.

“The dysfunctional nature of Congress must be addressed, and that is why we decided to support a group like Defending Main Street as part of our overall political activity,” said Jay Lederer, a spokesman for the Operating Engineers, which gave $2500,000 to the super-PAC in December.

Rich Greer with LIUNA said the union’s support for Defending Main Street — about $250,000 so far — would help candidates “more likely to reject Tea Party extremism in favor of passing policies that can help more working families earn their way into the middle class, one of the most powerful drivers for America’s economic growth.” 

At its convention this past September, the AFL-CIO faced dissent in the ranks for moving toward liberal groups. But unions also passed a resolution at the convention to have the AFL-CIO encourage centrist Republican candidates “who support fairness and equity for workers” to run in GOP-heavy districts.

The Operating Engineers co-sponsored that resolution and “donating to Republican candidates is not new for the IUOE,” Lederer said.

The union support for LaTourette’s effort might not sit well with Democrats, who need backing from their labor allies in the midterm elections.

Stem with the SMART Transportation Division said Democrats haven’t told him to avoid LaTourette’s super-PAC, but he is sure that many of them are not pleased.

 “I’m confident that there will be some Democratic operatives that are not happy about that. But guess what? We represent transportation employees all over the country,” Stem said.