Unions issue lowball estimate, expect big return

A group of labor unions and activist organizations said they will spend more than $400 million to help elect Democratic candidates to the White House and Congress this fall. The separate efforts will focus on identifying and registering Democratic voters and getting them to the polls. The AFL-CIO and other large national labor unions will spend a total of about $300 million, according to the organizations, which announced their plans yesterday.

The liberal group MoveOn.org said it would spend $30 million, and several smaller organizations said they would spend tens of millions of dollars registering minority, low-income and younger voters, who tend to vote disproportionately for Democratic candidates.

Dozens of other organizations and their subsidiaries plan to spend at least an additional $100 million combined. Those groups include abortion-rights organizations such as NARAL Pro-Choice America, Emily's List and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, as well as environmental-protection advocates such as the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and the League of Conservation Voters.

Spending on elections by outside political organizations is on the rise. In all, groups on both sides of the aisle are expected to spend more than $1 billion to influence the 2008 presidential and congressional elections, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis performed earlier this year. That is more money than ever.

Overall, the 2008 presidential and congressional campaigns could cost more than $6 billion. Most of the spending in the election will come from the candidates themselves and the national political parties.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain has raised far less money than either of his two potential Democratic rivals, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. But the Republican National Committee is expected to spend millions of dollars on Sen. McCain's behalf, as will several outside groups that support Republican candidates.

Exact figures for spending by outside groups are impossible to determine because much of the spending doesn't have to be disclosed. Certain nonprofit groups, for example, don't have to disclose spending on activities that aren't considered partisan. Labor unions are required to disclose only a portion of the money spent on elections.

With a $54 million budget, the AFL-CIO is likely to spend more than any organization outside the presidential campaigns and the political parties. The AFL-CIO spent $49 million on the 2004 election. Other labor unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO will spend an additional $150 million.

A separate set of labor unions not affiliated with the AFL-CIO plans to spend $100 million to promote Democratic candidates. Those unions, called "Change to Win," include the Service Employees International Union and several unions that left the AFL-CIO umbrella of labor unions a few years ago.

Ilyse Hogue, the communications director for MoveOn.org, said it hopes to help Democrats reach 60 seats in the Senate, giving them enough power to prevent Republicans from launching filibusters against legislation.

There are 49 Democrats in the Senate, plus two independent senators who tend to vote with Democrats. Democrats need to win eight more seats in the November elections. Seats held by Sens. Obama and Clinton aren't considered vulnerable to Republican takeover if either is elected president and has to leave the Senate.


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