Pennsylvania Is the Epicenter of Democrats’ Political Spending

Pennsylvania Is the Epicenter of Democrats’ Political Spending
Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Attorney General Josh Shapiro spoke in Pittsburgh about his office's continued commitment to protect abortion access for women, on July 14, 2022. (Commonwealth Media Service)
Nathan Benefield

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro’s overflowing campaign coffers underscore the importance of Pennsylvania to national politics—and the influence of government unions in elections.

With four weeks remaining until the mid-term elections, Shapiro reported raising a whopping $25.4 million in his latest campaign-finance report, bringing his total to a record $50.9 million since the beginning of 2021. This represents 47 percent more than Governor Tom Wolf raised in four years as an incumbent running for reelection. By contrast, Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano has raised just over $5 million since the beginning of 2021.

Slightly more than half of Shapiro’s total comes from donors outside of Pennsylvania, compared to less than one-third of Mastriano’s.

Shapiro’s massive haul includes $5.6 million from the Democratic Governors Association plus a plethora of six- and seven-figure checks from the usual suspects of billionaires and celebrities. Notably, he received $500,000 from Michael Bloomberg and $120,000 from the Soros family. Among Shapiro’s largest individual donors are California billionaire Jennifer Duda, who gave $2 million; Silicon Valley physician Karla Jurvetson, who gave $1 million; and former PayPal exec William Harris Jr., who also gave $1 million. Recognized names such as Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams also donated to Shapiro’s campaign.

But among the largest bloc of Shapiro’s donors are those who typically make up the bread-and-butter fundraising of Democrats’ campaigns: union political action committees (PACs).

So far, government-union PACs have donated $3.6 million to Shapiro, while private-sector union PACs have donated $4.7 million. Meanwhile, Mastriano has received 0.028 percent of that—$1,000—from government-union PACS.

Government unions are among the most powerful special interests in Pennsylvania. Their influence in national elections is unquestionable. Beyond Shapiro’s campaign, they have spent millions to prop up the Democratic Party and other progressive causes.

In this campaign cycle alone, the main Pennsylvania government-union PACs have raised more than $10 million and spent nearly $7 million. As of mid-September, union leaders hold more than $6 million in campaign cash.

National affiliates of these same unions—including the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees—have spent more than $3 million in Pennsylvania this cycle alone.

Government-union spending is decidedly one-party-focused. Donations to Democratic Party committees totaled $293,500, compared to $39,000 for Republican committees.

The top ten individual recipients of Pennsylvania government-union PAC money have received, collectively, $4,911,779 in the 2021–22 cycle. Nine of these ten individuals are Democrats, led by Shapiro.

But government-union influence isn’t limited to direct campaign contributions. Government unions also spend millions of dollars in members’ dues—$96.5 million since 2007—on election-related activity and lobbying. While union dues cannot go directly to candidates, they can be used—and are used—to support independent expenditures for or against candidates or funneled to Super PACS.

For example, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, and its parent union, the NEA, funnel money to a Super PAC called Pennsylvania Fund for Change. Fund for Change has run ads attacking Republicans to the tune of almost $10 million since 2018.

Nationally, government unions fund groups like Color for Change PAC, which advocates defunding the police, and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, whose sole purpose is to gerrymander congressional maps to benefit Democrats.

Government unions maintain their power by forcing taxpayers to pay for unions’ political fundraising, using that fundraising to elect candidates to office, and then negotiating billion-dollar labor contracts with these elected officials.

Generally, it’s illegal to use taxpayer dollars for political purposes. But state law gives government-union executives a perk awarded to no other private organization: Pennsylvania state and local governments, including school districts, can use taxpayer-funded payroll systems to deduct union dues and PAC contributions from public employees’ paychecks and send this money to union executives.

Bolstered by these special privileges, Pennsylvania government unions have spent millions on politics—with Shapiro the greatest beneficiary of their largesse—just as the state has become a national focus for election dollars. Taxpayers must demand an end to these sham perks that finance political campaigns.

Nathan Benefield is the senior vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank.
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