by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Unions hid tens of millions of dollars in political spending during the 2020 election cycle as part of a nearly $1.8 billion campaign to boost Democrats.
A study from the National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILRR) found $67 million in hidden political spending from unions in 2019 and 2020. Unions sent millions to liberal groups but classified the donations as charitable activities or grants—a loophole that allows them to bypass federal labor laws that protect workers from funding political causes they find objectionable.
Patrick Semmens, a spokesman for the National Right to Work Committee, said unions misclassify political spending because there are little to no consequences even if they are caught.
“Knowing at most they face only the lightest slap on the wrist only further incentivizes union officials to obscure their political spending from the rank-and-file,” Semmens told the Washington Free Beacon. “On top of that, when the Office of Labor-Management Standards does try to crack down, union officials know they can likely wait them out until a more union-friendly administration is elected with the backing of those very monies they are supposed to be reporting.”
The NILRR study found nearly $1.8 billion listed under “Political Spending and Lobbying” sections in federal labor filings from 2019 and 2020. The additional $67 million in misclassified political spending was listed in the “Representational Activities” and “Contributions, Gifts, and Grants” sections. Dissenting workers can pay partial dues to avoid funding union political activities, but that firewall does not apply to representational activities or other spending.
Federal labor filings show that major labor unions have sent millions of dollars in member and dissenter dues to political nonprofits. The National Education Association, for example, sent more than $18 million to the Strategic Victory Fund, a progressive lobbying organization, and the State Engagement Fund, a left-wing 501(c)(4) advocacy organization—both of which focus on politics.