Political spending: business vs. labor

By , Labor correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Businessmen now are contributing and spending at least as much as organized labor to support candidates in federal elections. And that news has labor unions worried.

The AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education NCOPE) has predicted that corporate political action committees (PACs) "may well spend over $100 million in the 1980 election." If they do, their spending will substantially exceed organized labor's in the struggle to elect a president and Congress in 1980.

The National Political Action Committee (NPAC), a consortium of about 1,000 conservative and corporate PACs, is, according to organized labor, "amassing funds to defeat pro-labor senators and representatives whom they cosider vulnerable."

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The objective, according to COPE director Al Barkan, is "to take over the US Congress this fall."

In addition to the NPAC, the AFL-CIO lists other organizations gathering funds to oppose pro-labor candidates, including the Business Roundtable of top corporate executives, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Right to Work Committee, and the Committee to Defeat Union bosses' Candidates.

COPE and many individual unions are gathering funds contributed voluntarily by union members through their locals. While millions will be collected, the money labor can turn over to candidates is probably less important than the thousands of volunteer campaigners labor can supply to man telephones, distribute literature, register voters and see that they go to the polls, and otherwise work for candidates. This is a massive operation that business PACs find hard to match.

A study just released by Dr. David G. Moore, senior research fellow for the Conference Board in New York, showed that organized labor reported collecting $ 19.8 million in voluntary contributions in 1977-78 and contributing $10.3 million to candidates. Corporate PACs collected $17.7 million and contributed $ 9.8 million. Both business and unions have been working hard for the past year to build up political war chests for 1980.

Labor contributions to candidates for federal offices in 1977-78 amounted to about 30 percent of a total of $35.1 million in contributions reported to the Federal Election Commission. Business PACs contributed 38 percent, but another 32 percent in contributions came in from trade associations and medical groups that often reflect a business viewpoint.

Of the $10.3 million in union money, well over $9.5 million went to Democrats. Of the $9.8 million contributed by corporate PACs, roughly $6 million went to Republicans. According to Dr. Moore's study, unions were responsible for 30 percent of all contributions to Democratic candidates and only 3 percent of the money for Republicans. Corporate PACs contributed 16 percent of the total for Democrats and 30 percent for Republicans.

Under federal law, contributions to political candidates directly or through PACs are limited in the amount and source. Union dues money cannot be used to support candidates.

At the time of Dr. Moore's study, there were 1,938 PACs registered. Some 290 were sponsored by labor; 232 by corporations; 232 by banks, insurance companies, and financial houses; 270 by trade and similar associations; 58 by professional associations; 116 by medical groups; 174 by transportation communications and public utility companies; 194 by small manufacturers and retailers, and 338 by unaffiliated or other sponsors.

The number has increased sharply in the last year. So has the nature of the business PACs. During a meeting on political activism sponsored in New York recently by the Conference Board, observers noted more political activism, more readiness to speak out on controversial major issues, and more willingness to endorse candidates, raise money for them, and assist in their campaigns.

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