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Change To Win unions spend $20M on elections

(The following by Marc Ambinder appeared on The Atlantic website on October 14.)

The Change to Win labor federation has amped up its political activity this cycle, spending more than $20 million -- mostly under the radar -- to help elect Democrats in battleground states.

The CTW union effort, focused principally in 14 states, most of them with competitive Senate races, compliments a mostly separate effort by the AFL-CIO, which has budgeted $53.4 million on its political program. Change To Win unions disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO in 2006 to focus on organizing. Since then, the two groups have worked well together, signing agreements to share information and some resources. Change to Win unions have worked with the National Education Association, the Steelworkers, and the Communications Workers of America -- the latter two being stalwart AFL-CIO unions -- on specific projects.

Unilaterally, the Change to Win unions have mailed more than 31.2 million persuasion placards, made nearly 4.6 million phone calls, and made millions of what the unions call "member to member" contacts -- direct engagements with union members, often at worksites.

Anna Burger the CTW's president, said that more than 3000 union members had worked more than 40,000 volunteer shifts on the Obama campaign's behalf in 14 battlegrounds. About 1250 of those union members canvassed white, working class union members. Burger said the mood among workers in these states has shifted from "anxiety to anger" about the economy, and that economic discontent was behind a recent surge of support for Democrats. CTW executive director Chris Chafe said that the economy, combined with union muscle, was putting Senate seats into play that Democrats had previously written off, including Rep. Tom Allen's challenge to Sen. Susan Collins in Maine. On election day, more than 50,000 CTW members will have participated in the political program, he said.

Much of the messaging has been focused on the presidential race, but most of the presidential messaging has been twinned with appeals specific to Senate races.

Content-specific messaging has focused on conservative efforts to block the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow instant "card check" sessions to certify unions. Democrats have promised to pass the bill in the next session of Congress, and Barack Obama has said he would sign it.

Others compare the candidates' positions on energy, health are and jobs.

In North Carolina, a Change To Win mailer compares Sen. Elizabeth Dole to a penguin, noting that, like those animals, "there are some things you don't see in North Carolina very often." (It seems that Sen. Dole spent only 33 days in the state during 2005 and 2006.)

Another flier contains what it calls the "truth" about Barack Obama: that he does wear a flag pin, that he is a devout Christian, that he did get sworn in on a bible, that he was born in America, and that he does put his hand over his heart during the pledge of allegiance.

CTW is working with Steve Rosenthal, a labor organizer who is credited with designing the AFL-CIO's program in the early part of this decade.

The ads, mailers and fliers have been funded by the unions themselves and by an array of 527 and 501 c(4) groups supported by the unions.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

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