April 1, 2019
After several years of mostly funneling money to other special interest groups, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) directly spent more than any other union on outside electioneering activities in last November’s general election.
Last year, the union dropped about $718,700 on behalf of democratic candidates for governor and lieutenant governor. Most of the outlay went to support Democrat Tony Evers and his running mate, Mandela Barnes, who defeated incumbent GOP Gov. Scott Walker.
In February, the union was among numerous Democratic allies that filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of lame-duck laws enacted in December by the GOP-controlled legislature and the outgoing Walker to limit the authority of Evers and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul. A circuit judge declared those laws unconstitutional and issued a temporary restraining order to prohibit their enforcement, but his restraining order was stayed pending an appeal to a State Court of Appeals.
And more recently this spring, the union is sponsoring outside activities for the first time in a Wisconsin Supreme Court race. As of the end of March, the SEIU had spent $131,140 to support Appeals Judge Lisa Neubauer. Neubauer, who has drawn support from mostly Democratic campaign contributors and groups, faces fellow Appeals Judge Brian Hagedorn, who is mostly backed by Republicans and conservatives.
At nearly 100 years old, SEIU is one of the largest unions in the country. The union boasts 2.1 million public and private sector members who work in state and local government, health care, and the property and food service industries. In Wisconsin, the SEIU Wisconsin State Council sets the political agenda for eight locals with more than 10,000 members.
Nationally, the union has been the largest backer of federal Democratic candidates since 1990, spending nearly $289.7 million since 1990, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In addition, the union has spent more than $67 million on state and local races.
SEIU makes direct contributions, sponsors outside electioneering activities, and organizes get-out-the-vote drives on behalf of state and federal Democratic candidates.
In Wisconsin, the SEIU spent more than $1.9 million on independent expenditures and issue ads mostly on behalf of Democratic candidates for governor in 2002, 2006, 2014, and 2018. The group also spent about $24,000 on behalf of Democratic Assembly and attorney general candidates during some of those elections.
And like other large special interest groups, the union also funneled cash to other electioneering groups. From 2010 through 2018, the SEIU contributed more than $2.9 million to other groups to spend on electioneering activities in Wisconsin. SEIU gave more than $2.6 million to We Are Wisconsin, a coalition of labor unions that spent more than $14.4 million to back Democratic candidates in the 2011 and 2012 recall elections for state Senate and governor.
In addition to outside spending on elections, SEIU PACs made direct contributions to Democratic legislative and statewide candidates in Wisconsin totaling about $302,000 from 2010 through 2018, including:
$108,500 to Democratic candidate for governor Mahlon Mitchell
$40,000 to Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke
$35,000 to Democratic candidate for governor Kathleen Falk
$33,500 to Evers
About $9,400 to Democratic candidate for governor Tom Barrett
Unlike the scale of its election spending and campaign contributions, the SEIU spends little on lobbying at the State Capitol.
From 2007 through 2018, SEIU spent about $429,700 on lobbying. During the same period the state AFL-CIO spent nearly $3.5 million and AFSCME doled out nearly $4 million between 2007 and 2018.
In most of those years, the SEIU identified few or no bills it actually lobbied. One item from a couple of legislative sessions that it supported a measure that would have prohibited mandatory overtime and on-call duty for health care workers. The proposal never passed.
Two of the SEIU’s longtime key federal and state issues have been affordable health care, increasing the minimum wage, and opposing right-to-work proposals.