Commentary

Even After Right-to-Work, Unions Still Big Political Spenders in Michigan

Organized labor gave millions to Democratic candidates and groups in 2018

Unions and their affiliated political action committees continue to be big players in Michigan elections, spending a lot of money to influence candidate and ballot outcomes. The 2018 elections in Michigan were no exception.

Here are just a few examples of state and national union spending in Michigan during the last election cycle. This data comes from state and federal campaign spending filings.

The SEIU’s affiliated super PAC, United We Can, made almost $1.3 million in independent expenditures from Jan. 1, 2017, to Nov. 26, 2018. It also disbursed $1.8 million to a separate super PAC — United We Can Michigan. The vast majority of this money was used to support Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and oppose Republican candidate Bill Schuette, spending $535,500 in support of the former and the same amount on canvassing to oppose the latter.

AFSCME, another of Michigan’s largest unions, spent almost $500,000 in the state, $34,000 of which went directly to Gov. Whitmer’s campaign. Most of the rest went to the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee, equaling $250,000.

The Michigan Education Association PAC gave $10,000 to Abdul El-Sayed’s campaign for governor and $33,750 to Gov. Whitmer’s campaign. It made over $750,000 in expenditures during 2018. Included in the $750,000 was $50,000 to the Michigan Democratic Party, $20,000 to the Michigan Senate Democratic Fund and $20,000 to the Michigan House Democratic Fund. The MEA contributed to state senate campaigns, state representative campaigns, local elections, school board elections, state board of regent races and judicial elections.

The SEIU Michigan State Council made a $25,000 contribution to Gov. Whitmer’s campaign.

While most of Michigan’s largest unions have lost a significant amount of their membership, and with it, revenue, organized labor is still a major political spender in the state. Unlike workers in past election cycles, however, today’s workers have a choice in union membership and fees. Workers who don’t like how a union is spending its time or their money can choose to withdraw from the union.