Mark Hemingway: Then there's Obama's favorite special interest, unions

At a speech in Connecticut last Thursday, President Obama warned that “special interests are planning and running millions of dollars of attack ads against Democratic candidates.”

For this sorry state of affairs, the president went on to blame the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision earlier this year, which ruled that many campaign finance laws violated the First Amendment. “None of them will disclose who's paying for these ads. You don't know if it's a Wall Street bank. You don't know if it's a big oil company. You don't know if it's an insurance company.”

A White House official further told Politico's Mike Allen last week that the president plans to talk “a lot” about the “corporate takeover of our elections.”

Big business is a major corrupting influence in Washington. But when it comes to influencing our elections, the president should probably note that the biggest special interest in the country is not corporations.

“Labor union PACs have spent more this year than every PAC in these industries, combined: oil and gas, mining, Wall Street, commercial banks, defense contractors, HMOs, telecom, and lobbyists,” my Examiner colleague Tim Carney reported earlier this week.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 12 of the top 20 biggest political contributors are labor unions. Labor unions represent just 7.5 percent of the private work force and 40 percent of public employees. They are the very definition of a special interest. But don't expect the president to talk about how unions are corrupting our politics. That's because they almost exclusively fund Democrats.

Democrats have attempted to pass a legislative fix to the much-vilified Citizens United decision, known as the DISCLOSE Act. The bill would have imposed stricter campaign finance laws in place of those thrown out by the Supreme Court. The president's weekly address on Saturday decried how Republican leaders have “blocked this bill from even coming up for a vote in the Senate.”

But in June Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa. – a big union backer – inserted an amendment into the bill that would have exempted unions from many of those new requirements. Unions would be free to make nearly unrestricted, undisclosed political spending, while corporations would have their hands tied.

While the DISCLOSE Act is stalled in the Senate, the fact such insane legislation passed the House shows just how captive to unions the Democratic majority is. We've seen this on issue after issue since the Democrats came to power.

For instance, General Motors proposed switching the United Auto Workers over to individual retirement accounts to help save the failing company. But Steven Rattner, a former member of Obama's auto bailout task force, has just written a book where he notes the UAW's woefully underfunded pension plans got billions in taxpayer bailouts because the union was a “sacred cow” politically.

Democrats have also pushed to unionize Transportation Safety Administration employees, despite serious concerns about how union workplace rules would undermine national security. In addition to the UAW bailout, Democrats pushed a $20 billion bailout for middle-class teachers represented by powerful unions at a time when one in seven Americans are living in poverty.

Obamacare's taxes on insurance plans were carefully crafted to fall disproportionately on small businesses and individuals rather than hurt the “Cadillac” plans of union workers. And these are just a few of the ways Democrats have supported unions over the interests of the American people since Obama took office.

As a general rule, it never hurts to remind voters they should be cognizant of who is funding our elections and lobbying our leaders. But Obama's rhetoric about special interests seems awfully self-serving when he ignores the interests that are special to him.

Mark Hemingway is an editorial page staff writer for The Examiner. He can be reached at

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