AFL-CIO’s planned “Super PAC” heightens concerns about campaign money

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  • Dale Eisman

The AFL-CIO’s apparent decision to form a Super PAC, joining an assortment of Democratic and Republican activists and corporate interests in exploiting the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, is another disturbing signal that the 2012 campaign will be dominated by big money, Common Cause said today.

“We understand that unions, which have been supportive of campaign finance reforms designed to empower small donors, feel they can’t sit by idly as their corporate adversaries dump millions of dollars into our political system,” said Bob Edgar, president of the non-partisan government watchdog group. “We would not expect them to do so.

“But we hope that as they respond to the new realities of political fundraising, the AFL and other reform-minded groups will maintain and strengthen their long-term commitment to overhauling our campaign finance system. We desperately need reforms, like the Fair Elections Now Act, that allow candidates to run on a base of small contributions from individuals and break the hold of big-monied interests on our politics.”

Edgar said the emergence of a new political arms race, dominated by the unconstrained fundraising of Super PACs and other groups, increases the likelihood that regardless of who ‘wins,’ the 2012 elections, everyday Americans will be the losers. “Victorious candidates will come into office beholden to big donors, while those of us who can’t afford to be political givers, or can give only modestly, will be marginalized,” he said.

News organizations reported this week that the AFL-CIO is moving forward with plans to form a Super PAC, which thanks to Citizens United would be able to tap union treasuries and accept unlimited donations to finance “independent” expenditures on behalf of its preferred candidates. Conventional PACs rely on donations from individual members and their gifts to candidates are subject to limits set by federal law.

While Super PACs and conventional PACs are legally required to disclose their donors, some Super PAC organizers are also setting up non-profit groups that can accept secret contributions, including funds drawn directly from corporate or union treasuries. Edgar urged the AFL-CIO and other groups that form Super PACs to fully disclose their donors.

“The Supreme Court has put our democracy up for sale. Disclosure at least gives voters some idea of who is trying to buy it,” Edgar said. “That’s information we need and deserve.”