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Capital Rivals: U.S. Chamber of Commerce vs. SEIU

In the never-ending political showdown between business and labor, there certainly is no shortage of business associations and labor unions doing their part to keep their respective sides competitive.

This edition of Capital Rivals, however, takes an intimate look at the biggest of the big players: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Service Employees International Union.

chamberseiu-thumb-270x164-3344After recent high-profile clashes on issues such as health care reform and the Employee Free Choice Act (popularly known as the card check bill, which would alter union organizing rules), it comes as little surprise that both sides recently spent unprecedented amounts of money on political lobbying and campaign donations.

Add to this the new category of unlimited independent expenditures by corporations, unions and advocacy groups -- which was authorized by the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling in January -- and the millions in outside spending by both behemoths piled up quickly.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world's largest business organization and represents a federation of state and local chambers with more than 3 million total members. The group's primary aim is "to advance human progress through an economic, political and social system based on individual freedom, incentive, initiative, opportunity and responsibility."

SEIU, on the other hand, represents more than 2.2 million employees in the health care, public services and property services sectors working in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. The group purports to help workers by "uniting their strength with their counterparts around the world to help ensure that workers -- not just corporations and CEOs -- benefit from today's global economy."

But the question remains: Which of these capital rivals truly has more influence in Washington when measuring their financial largesse?

Outside Spending

Sure, no single victory can guarantee long-term success in political warfare, but we begin the business vs. labor smackdown with the marquee money-in-politics matchup during the 2010 election cycle -- outside spending. And following the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. FEC ruling in January, the outside spending came fast and furious in the run up to the 2010 midterm elections.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce annihilated the field in this category, spending more than $32.8 million this cycle on "electioneering communications" (FEC-speak for political ads that mention specific political candidates, but don't overly tell you to vote for or against them).

The U.S. Chamber did not disclose the amount spent for or against Democratic or Republican candidates because the group chose to report its expenditures under the more general electioneering communications category, as opposed to more specific "independent expenditures" classification. Such an approach has proven to be contentious, as some critics of the Chamber suggest the group's electioneering communications actually crossed into the realm of expressly advocating for or against political candidates, as OpenSecrets Blog previously reported.

Excluding national political party committees, the U.S. Chamber was the single highest outside spender in this realm for the 2010 cycle.

Still, SEIU held its own, investing more than $15.7 million in independent expenditures. Of that amount, $12.1 million went toward efforts expressly advocating for Democratic candidates, with an additional $3.5 million spent in efforts opposing Republican candidates.

As OpenSecrets Blog previously reported, however, questions lingered about whether this was the proper procedure given the degree of "express advocacy" for or against a candidate in some of the Chamber's advertisements.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce invested in several dozen congressional races nationwide, including $4.9 million spent on the race for U.S. Senate in California between Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Republican challenger Carly Fiorina.

It also poured about $2 million each into U.S. Senate contests in Colorado and Florida.

The following chart provides a breakdown of the top 10 targets of the U.S. Chamber's outside spending this election cycle, including special elections. (Again, the group did not have to report whether the money was spent in support of or in opposition to the given candidates since the spending was reported as more general electioneering communications. The Chamber, however, frequently lauded Republicans and criticized Democrats in their communications.):

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 Candidate

 Party

 State

Office

 U.S. Chamber $ spent 

Barbara Boxer

D

Calif.

Senate

$4,911,122

Michael Bennet

D

Colo.

Senate

$2,045,526

Charlie Crist

I

Fla.

Senate

$2,000,000

Alexander Giannoulias

D

Ill.

Senate

$1,682,856

Paul Hodes

D

N.H.

Senate

$1,650,214

Joseph Sestak

D

Pa.

Senate

$1,488,880

Robin Carnahan

D

Mo.

Senate

$1,435,101

Jack Conway

D

Ky.

Senate

$1,254,010

Scott Brown

R

Mass.

Senate

$1,001,400

Dino Rossi

R

W.Va.

Senate

$997,525

SEIU likewise invested in several dozen congressional races, including $3.2 million in support of Bill Halter, a Democratic primary challenger who lost to U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) after forcing her into a runoff.

The following chart provides a breakdown of the top 10 targets of SEIU's outside spending this election cycle, including special elections. (In the case of each candidate, SEIU spent money to advocate for Democrats and against Republicans. The vast majority of this outside spending came in the form of independent expenditures, which require that the beneficiary or target of the spending be disclosed.)

 

 Candidate

 Party

 State

 Office

 SEIU $ spent 

Bill Halter

D

Ark.

Senate

$3,198,948

Martha Coakley

D

Mass.

Senate

$1,704,166

Scott Murphy

D

N.Y.

House

$942,813

James Renacci

R

Ohio

House

$502,787

Bill Ownes

D

N.Y.

House

$491,299

Bobby Schilling

R

Ill.

House

$481,850

Tim Walberg

R

Mich.

House

$416,567

Dina Titus

D

Nev.

House

$353,802

Michael Fitzpatrick

R

Pa.

House

$325,189

Robert Hurt

R

Va.

House

$318,340

However, as OpenSecrets Blog previously reported, SEIU wasn't the only labor union to make waves for outside spending in 2010.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees spent more than $12.4 million, with $9.5 million used in efforts to oppose Republican candidates, according to federal campaign filings.

An October Wall Street Journal article even determined that the public employee union had surpassed all other groups in overall outside spending based on interviews with AFSCME and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that factored in projected spending and other politically related cash not reported to the FEC.

Verdict: Points to the U.S. Chamber … based on what we know for sure. Based on federal filings, the Chamber more than doubled its closest union competitor, SEIU, on the outside spending front.

Political Action Committees

While outside spending accounted for a huge portion of each group's spending during the 2010 election cycle, both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and SEIU also utilized political action committees to donate directly to federal candidates. The figures discussed here apply only to the main PACs for SEIU and the Chamber -- not the separate PACs of local SEIU organizations or local or regional chambers of commerce.

SEIU's main PAC spent a whopping $36 million this election cycle, including millions of dollars in the form of independent expenditures (outside spending). The group also spent more than $4.7 million on campaign contributions to federal and non-federal candidates, including $1.55 million in donations to more than 200 unique federal Democratic candidates.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), who was first elected to Congress in a 2009 special election to replace Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) after she was appointed U.S. Secretary of Labor, received more than $20,000 from SEIU toward both her special election and re-election bids.

And SEIU also spent big on other Democratic political hopefuls, dishing out five-figure sums to numerous candidates, including MacDonald King D'Alessandro, a challenger for a U.S. House seat in Massachusetts who lost in a party primary, and to Alexander Giannoulias, the unsuccessful Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful in Illinois. (PACs, by law, are limited in the sizes of the contributions they may make.)

The U.S. Chamber's PAC, in contrast, spent significantly less. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce PAC spent slightly more than $134,800 through late November, including campaign contributions to 30 candidates.

The group donated $70,000 in full to 24 Republican congressional candidates and $12,000 to six Democratic candidates. The top recipients were Rep. Vernon Buchanan (R-Fla.), a member of the House Small Business Committee, who received $10,000 from the U.S. Chamber, and $8,500 to Sen.-elect Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who was running for the open seat of retiring Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

You can read more about the breakdown of tall PAC giving, in terms of a business-labor-ideology split, here.

This election cycle, both the Chamber and SEIU also diversified their PAC investmnets by giving to partisan leadership committees and other party committees.

The U.S. Chamber's PAC, for example, donated $5,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee and $1,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in addition to $5,000 each to two PACs operated by moderate Democrats: the Blue Dog PAC and the New Democrat Coalition. SEIU's PAC, however, gave more than $1.5 million to federal and non-federal Democratic Party committees -- exponentially more than all of the Chamber PAC's entire spending.

SEIU gave $30,000 each to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in addition to tens of thousands of dollars to state Democratic parties.

The group also gave big to other left-leaning PACs, including $250,000 to Women Vote!, the "super PAC" of abortion rights advocacy group EMILY's List. It also gave $5,000 to EMILY's List's traditional PAC and another $5,000 to MoveOn.org.

In addition, while the U.S. Chamber's PAC reported only $180 in administrative costs and $1,700 in "miscellaneous fund-raising," SEIU's PAC reported far higher administrative and miscellaneous costs. Those costs include more than $852,000 in administrative costs (five times the U.S. Chamber's total PAC spending) and more than $1 million each for "miscellaneous fundraising" and "miscellaneous transfer."

SEIU's PAC reported receiving 124 individual donations of more than $200 as of late November. SEIU also reported four donations from other PACs, including $6,000 from Friends of Chris Dodd, $5,000 from the Asian American Action Fund, $5,000 from the Committee to Elect MacDonald D'Alessandro and $4,000 from MoveOn.org.

The U.S. Chamber's PAC reported receiving 44 individual donations of more than $200, including nine donations of $5,000. The group also reported donations from nine PACs, including $10,000 each from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and AEGON, a Netherlands-based insurance company.

Verdict: SEIU takes this round. While much of SEIU's PAC spending includes outside spending and administrative costs, the union far out-spent the Chamber in reported campaign contributions and donations to other political action committees this election cycle.

Lobbying

Though the year isn't over yet, both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and SEIU have racked up major lobbying tabs through the first three quarters of 2010.

In the final round of this bout between business and labor, we compare each group's lobbying expenditures from January through September of this year. After spending more than $81.3 million through the first three quarters of 2010, the U.S. Chamber and its subsidiaries far surpassed all other lobbying clients in spending during 2010.

However, it is also important to note that the Chamber elects to report federal, state and grassroots lobbying while many other groups, such as SEIU, report only federal activity. Still, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce remains the top overall lobbying spender from 1998 to 2010 after spending a staggering $687.8 million, according to analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Chamber's closest competitor, the American Medical Association, has spent $238.3 million on lobbying during the same period. And the business giant is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

As OpenSecrets Blog previously reported, the U.S. Chamber's most recent third quarter federal filings show that the group spent $37 million from July to September of this year alone -- a 275 percent increase from the $13.4 million the group spent during the second quarter of this year, which lasted from April to June.

Through the first three quarters of 2010, SEIU and its subsidiaries reported $1.86 million in lobbying expenditures -- roughly 43 times less than the Chamber's year-to-date lobbying total. While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce saw a third quarter jump in lobbying, SEIU's lobbying expenditures have been following the opposite trend.

After spending $704,500 in the first quarter of 2010, SEIU went on to spend $681,300 in the second quarter and $454,200 in the third quarter. That's a drop of more than 30 percent from the second quarter to the third quarter of the year.

However, where SEIU lobbying expenditures may be lagging, other unions have stepped up. The AFL-CIO, for example, has spent more than $3.3 million on lobbying so far this year, and the National Education Association has injected another $3 million from January through September.

Regardless, neither the U.S. Chamber of Commerce nor SEIU have been spending their lobbying dollars on a single issue.

The U.S. Chamber has this year employed a fleet of lobbyists -- nearly 190 of them through the end of September-- to work on dozens of issues ranging from Wall Street reform to domestic travel and tourism to combating online piracy and encouraging international trade.

In addition to issues that both groups lobbied on, such as immigration, education and the proposed card check legislation, SEIU also lobbied on issues such as advocacy for food service workers, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and home foreclosures. SEIU has so far employed more than 30 lobbyists this year in an attempt to influence the federal government.

Verdict: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce by a landslide. Considering the U.S. Chamber's position as the top lobbying client in all of Washington, the only real chance SEIU had in this match-up is strength in numbers with other labor unions also spending on lobbying.

AND THE WINNER IS ... While SEIU's PAC spending was exponentially higher, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's victories in two out of three spending categories make the business titan the overall winner of this installment of Capital Rivals.

In all fairness to SEIU, though, the U.S. Chamber also out-spent every other organization in the country in reported lobbying expenditures for 2010 and outside spending for this election cycle. And while SEIU may have been the highest-spending union this election cycle, there are a multitude of big time labor groups active on Capitol Hill.

As OpenSecrets Blog previously reported, there are 25 labor unions on the Center for Responsive Politics' Heavy Hitters list of the most prolific organizations in Washington, which all give at least 89 percent of contributions to Democrats.

For now, at least one thing is for sure: Neither side appears to be backing down.

Capital Rivals is OpenSecrets Blog's ongoing series that pits political foes against one another on the playing field of money in politics.

Researcher Jihan Andoni contributed to this report.

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