Labor organizations, often said to pour millions of dollars into political campaigns, now are complaining bitterly that "business and right-wing groups" are channeling "fantastic amounts of money" into campaigns for a conservative victory in fall elections.
"Never before in the history of American politics have such fantastic amounts of money been poured into campaign financing," says the AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Department. "The bulk of the growth in giving, unfortunately, has been concentrated in business, right-wing, and single-issue groups. Labor has not kept up."
For years, unions had a virtual monopoly on political action committee (PAC) collections of "voluntary" contributions for favored candidates, nearly all Democrats. Changes in federal election campaign financing laws in 1974 made it legal for corporations to set up PACs to collect money from executives, managers , and foremen for contributions to business-oriented candidates.
Business PACs have mushroomed since then. According to a Federal Election Commission (FEC) report released recently, business PACs have increased in six years from several hundred to more than 1,000. Labor reports a 1,940 total for "corporate, industry and professional association, right-wing, and single-issue PACs," described as "well identified concentrations of power."
During the same period, 1974 to 1980, labor PACs increased in number from 201 to only 276.5 under the peak 281 in 1978.
The FEC's most recent figures show that corporate PACs had raised $23 million by the end of June, nearly $6 million more than they collected for the 1978 election. Unions had raised $17.5 million by midsummer, less than the $19.6 million collected for the campaign two years ago. Thus, for the first time, corporate PACs are raising more money than their counterparts in organized labor.
According to the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO, which held a politically oriented convention in Atlantic City last week, "This is just a beginning -- the sky's the limit for corporate right-wing and single-issue PACs."
Possibly reflecting this, the AFL-CIO and its unions now are among the advocates of further election reforms that would finance campaigns solely through public funds.
Labor estimates that 1980 PAC collections -- most of the money to be spent in campaigns this year -- will reach $100 million, of which $29.3 million will come from union members. The remaining $70.7 million is expected to come from corporate, industry, and professional associations, and right-wing and single-issue groups such as the Gun Owners of America.
FEC figures show that $85.3 million had been raised by all PACs through midsummer, as against $80 million for the 1978 election. With fund raising still going on, the total by November may reach labor's projection.
So far, no corporate PAC has managed to reach the top-10 PAC contributor list. This is because their collections are being sent to a million individual PACs, not into one big fund -- as are the industry and professional associations -- or into several hundred labor PACs, which collect large sums in small amounts for more than 18 million in unions.
Between 90 percent and 95 percent of the money raised by labor PACs goes to Democrats. The fund distribution by other PACs is by no means as one-sided, but Republicans are benefiting far more than Democrats this year.