West Virginia organized labor created a new independent fundraising arm in an attempt to fight the flow of outside money affecting federal elections in the state.
The West Virginia AFL-CIO created the new federal political action committee “Honest West Virginians” in late June, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission. The group of labor unions and other affiliated organizations felt it had no choice in creating the PAC, said AFL-CIO treasurer Josh Sword.
“This is not something that we necessarily wanted to do, we felt like we had to do this,” said Sword, who is also treasurer for the PAC.
“And the reason is organized labor is tired of all of this out-of-state, big corporation, big CEO money coming in to West Virginia influencing elections.”
Outside expenditures are not new in West Virginia elections: In recent months national Democrats have spent more than $1 million decrying similar amounts of money spent by Americans For Prosperity, an organization founded by conservative police activists David and Charles Koch. National Republicans are quick to point to a slew of donations to Democrat candidates coming from sources located outside West Virginia while GOP candidates receive funding from different out-of-state sources.
In 2012, PACs ponied up roughly $7 million on state elections along, according to Daily Mail archives. Sword said the AFL-CIO watched the outside spending during that campaign cycle and determined the organization needed to do something.
“We sort of followed the old saying, ‘If you cant beat them, join them,’ and decided to create an independent organization,” Sword said.
As an independent super PAC, the group is allowed to raise an unlimited amount of money. While technically independent, these organizations frequently attack or support candidates through advertising along ideological lines.
Traditionally the AFL-CIO and West Virginia labor organizations in general have supported Democrats more frequently than Republicans. Cecil Roberts, head of the AFL-CIO member United Mine Workers of America, already endorsed U.S. Rep Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., in his race against state Sen. Evan Jenkins, R-Cabell.
Sword said the endeavor is “not a partisan issue” but rather about providing accurate information to the electorate. Americans For Prosperity — which is not a PAC specifically but spends copious amounts on elections — is spreading misinformation and is as a reason the AFL-CIO created the PAC, Sword said.
“To be totally honest with you, it’s the Koch Brothers of the world and Don Blankenships of the world that are making us do this,” Sword said.
“The Koch brothers are clearly trying to buy West Virginia. And we think West Virginia citizens deserve better than that.”
Blankenship, the controversial coal executive in charge of Massey Energy at the time of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, previously was very active in fundraising for conservative causes. While he is not as politically active now, his organization “And for the Sake of the Kids” raised and spent more than $3 million during the 2004 campaign cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Sword’s comments about the Koch brothers mirror those of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a national organization committed to electing Democrats to Congress. The group has spent more than $1 million accusing Jenkins, of being a “puppet” to the Koch brothers.
The West Virginia AFP chapter recently began airing advertisements attacking Rahall for allegedly supporting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and for a comment he made about mines not able to hire workers because “they can’t pass a drug test.”
Sword characterized AFP statements as “distorting the truth.” He didn’t reference any one statement in particular.
Wendy McCuskey, state director for the AFP chapter, said they have the same right to “educate” voters as anyone else.
“Among the many policies AFP supports is the freedom to voluntarily join a union. We also believe in the freedom to not join a union or pay compulsory union dues if you do not support the activities conducted by your union,” McCuskey said in a statement.
“West Virginia’s workers should not be forced to fund the AFL-CIO’s political agenda and AFP will continue to advocate for worker freedom in West Virginia and across the country.”
Sword said the amount of money “Honest West Virginians” raises will dictate how active the PAC is and the races it will focus on before the 2014 election. He said the group won’t be able to compete with the well-financed AFP, but he thinks they’ll be able to raise some money from the hundreds of organizations that comprise the AFL-CIO.
Messaging for the PAC is still undetermined as well, he said. While the many member organizations will be able to suggest ideas, Sword said a “decision making committee” gets the final say.
The AFL-CIO already has a state-level political arm, called the Committee on Political Education or AFL-CIO COPE. Sword said he’s focusing on the federal PAC now and will no longer work with the state level organization.
The general election is Nov. 4.
Contact Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.