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Political Spending by Organized Labor: Background and Current Issues

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Publication Date: February 1998

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: 96-484

Topic: Politics (Campaigns, lobbying, and pressure groups)


Labor unions have traditionally played a strong role in American elections, assisting favored candidates through their direct and indirect financial support, as well as through manpower and organizational services. While direct financing of federal candidates by unions is prohibited under federal law, unions can and do establish political action committees (PACs) to raise voluntary contributions for donation to federal candidates. This PAC money is also known as "hard money," because certain federal limits on contributions make it harder to raise. It is also fully disclosed under federal law. Other aspects of labor's political support take the form of "soft money," which is not limited by federal law and is not as hard to raise. Soft money is generally considered to be a formidable factor in organized labor's political strength. This spending is largely unregulated, either because it is restricted to seeking to influence only its members and their families or because it does not advocate specific candidates' election or defeat. The soft money aspect of labor's political activity has aroused controversy because of fundraising methods and the relative dearth of disclosure.