PACs, Unions And Election Magic

Larry Price
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Wednesday - August 02, 2006
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Last week’s deadline for candidates to file for 111 elective seats in this year’s election, including one U.S. senator, two U.S. representatives, 13 state senators and 51 state representatives, plus mayors on Maui and Kauai, was met by a mass of would-be contenders. They come from all walks of life and belong to a variety of political groups: Democrats (D), Green Party (G), Libertarian (L), Republican (R) and the rare Nonpartisan (N).

Some are incumbents. It’s easy to pick them out, they are the nervous ones who pick and choose every public word they utter.

Everyone is hoping for an upset or two. The first hurdle is the primary election Sept. 23. Next the survivors have to regroup for the general election Nov. 7.


Deep down in the bowels of dark, secret meeting places, a different kind of election magic is going on. It is the activity of the political action committees.

One of the toughest jobs in the political arena has to be the person or persons who must decide why the unions will support, endorse and assist one candidate over another.

The truth of the matter is the unions are deeply interested in who is elected and traditionally have received more favorable treatment from agencies like the National Labor Relations Board during Democratic administrations, both nationally and locally.

It is no secret that Democrats in office are more likely to promote legislation favored by labor unions and to appropriate funds for activities that unions support. More often than not these political positions are opposed by various segments of the business communities. In Hawaii, a group like the Chamber of Commerce will usually take the opposite positions from union political action committee.

This is an old battle that has been going on since the beginning of America.

In 1907, corporations were first prohibited from directly donating to federal election campaigns, and in 1943 this ban was extended to labor unions. It was this legislation that developed the so-called political action committees (PACs). It’s interesting to note that as soon as the unions were allowed to forms PACs, corporations also created PACs to direct funds to candidates.

The record also shows that in 2002 PACs raised and disbursed almost $500 billion in support of candidates and issues, divided almost evenly Republicans and Democrats. That’s a massive amount of money by any standard or measurement.


Union political action before, during and after an election is vital to many candidates. The action takes place in four basic forms. First, there is the financial support - and remember, that support is for candidates who favor the unionized point of view. That in itself takes a lot of research. Second, there is volunteer work performed by the union members in campaigns. Third, they help in get-out-the-vote efforts, and lastly, they conduct lobbying efforts year ‘round. Besides working on rewriting legislation that was recently vetoed by the governor, they have five constitutional amendments to contest in the general election.

And while union membership may have leveled off or declined in recent years, labor’s success in mobilizing voting for endorsed candidates has increased, and with so many elective seats open in the upcoming elections, the unions are probably going to be more active and influential this year.

The word around town is the unions will not play a big role in the upcoming elections. I would disagree. They are in a stronger position now than they have been in a decade. Just have to wait and see whom they endorse and who gets elected.

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