Workers Voice, the AFL-CIO’s super political action committee that spent over $22 million nationwide in the 2012 elections, has arrived in Maine.
According to filings with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, Workers Voice registered as a PAC July 8.
The arrival of Workers Voice is potentially significant to the gubernatorial and legislative races for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the group’s spending power. In 2012, Workers Voice spent over $22 million during the congressional and presidential contests. It also spent $6.3 million on independent expenditures, which are election communications that target specific candidates. It has spent $4.7 million so far this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
While the group’s 2012 efforts focused on federal contests, it has vowed to target state house and gubernatorial races, particularly in traditionally blue or purple states where Republicans made significant gains during the 2010 wave election. That includes Maine. While Democrats managed to retake the State House in 2012 after getting walloped in 2010, the state is still led by Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
LePage is no friend of organized labor and has backed an assortment of right-to-work proposals that organized labor considers as an imminent threat to its members’ wages and political power.
Unions in Maine fared better than other traditional union stronghold states like Wisconsin and Michigan, where Republican governors and legislatures installed right to work laws or removed collective bargaining rights altogether.
Unions have become the Democratic response to the 2009 Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that removed the limits that corporations, unions and other groups can spend to influence elections. While organized labor has traditionally been an ally of the Democratic party, the Citizens United decision has increased unions role and influence in elections.
Michael Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO political director, and the treasurer of the Maine-based PAC, told the New York Times in February that the organization would spend at least much in 2014 as it did in 2010, $300 million. He told the Times that unions and progressive groups were caught flat-footed in state and local races in 2010 and vastly outspent by corporate-backed groups like the Republican Governors Association and the Republican State Leadership Committee, both of which spent heavily in Maine in 2010 and are expected to do the same this year.
Not only do unions spend more directly on elections, the groups have also increased in presence and sophistication canvassing and voter turnout initiatives. Such efforts were key elements of President Obama’s electoral successes in key battleground states like Ohio. The group’s post-general election report from 2012 is loaded with expenditures on direct mail, canvassing and targeted robocalls, three elements of voter contact that may seem outdated in the age of Web micro-targeting, but are actually enjoying a renaissance thanks to refined messaging tactics and massive lists that combine consumer and voter data.
Not coincidentally, Podhorzer has played a leading role in that resurgence. He is listed on the board of managers of Catalist, the “data utility” to progressive groups that maintains a 50-state database of over 270 million voting age individuals that combines commercial data with national voting records. Todd Rogers, one of Podhorzer’s collaborators featured in the book “The Victory Lab,” described the fine-tuned data turnout models as the “Moneyball” for progressive politics.
Podhorzer’s Workers Voice PAC has not posted any financial activity yet, so it’s unclear how it will engage in state races in Maine. But if the battle for the Blaine House and State House emerge as turnout-driven affairs as expected, it’s likely Workers Voice PAC will play a significant role.