Thursday, October 14, 2010

PolitiFact Explains Difference Between Unions and U.S. Chamber of Commerce

I have heard many Republicans attack President Obama's criticisms of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for not disclosing it's donors by claiming unions are in the same boat.  I had read an interesting article from PolitiFact that rates that statement "Half True" and does an excellent job explaining the difference between the Chamber and unions, such as the AFL-CIO:
The AFL-CIO (it stands for American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) is a federation of dozens of unions, so it doesn't have individual members in and of itself. The members belong to unions which in turn are members of the AFL-CIO.

And some of the AFL-CIO's affiliates do have Canadian members -- most notably the United Auto Workers and United Steelworkers unions. Those union affiliates pass through a portion of the dues they collect from American members to the AFL-CIO, but not from their foreign members, said Vale.

"We don't take money at the national level from foreign members," Vale said.

There's another big difference in disclosure requirements between unions and groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. While FEC and IRS laws do not require unions to disclose donors -- just as they do not require disclosure of donors to trade groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- unions are subject to the Labor Management Relations Act, which requires public disclosure of payments over $5,000 to unions. So you can go to the Department of Labor's website and search the contributions to (and disbursements made by) the AFL-CIO and other unions in any given year.

"Our information, people can see it," Vale said.

Politico's Ben Smith did a good explainer of all this, challenging a twitter message posted by Jim Dyke, one of the GOP consultants on the board of the conservative group American Crossroads, which stated, "[U]nions are [501](c)(5)s and don’t that the business as usual? Or does that make them shadowy?"

Smith concluded that unions have to disclose significant contributions, while some of the most politically active groups such as the Chamber of Commerce do not.
I thought this explanation was sufficient - the "Half True" rating comes from the fact that union affiliates may have Canadian members, and the AFL-CIO may receive money from those affiliates, but the AFL-CIO does not take in money directly from foreign sources.  I expect the right to make claims that the union is laundering foreign money to pay for political advertisements.

As the article points out - unlike the Chamber, unions must disclose information - it is for this reason that I find the right-wing defense of the Chamber to be hypocritical, because after all, they are the ones who originally made the "foreign money" argument, as Jon Stewart pointed out on his show a couple nights ago.

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