SEIU's new PAC backs leftist Republicans

The name of the political action group Republicans Who Care doesn’t immediately distinguish it from the many other organizations that conduct independent expenditure campaigns in support or opposition to political candidates.

But Republicans Who Care has a special distinction. It has received substantial funding from the political committee of a major national labor organization, the Service Employees International Union, long a major player in Democratic Party politics. And that money is earmarked for an ad campaign aimed at helping nine-term Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest , a GOP moderate, weather a strong challenge from the right in his contest for the Feb. 12 primary in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District.

Republicans Who Care, which generally supports moderate Republican candidates, received $200,000 from the Service Employees International Union’s Political Education and Action Fund, and is using $180,000 of it on a television ad buy in Baltimore, which reaches pockets of 1st District voters on the western side of the Chesapeake Bay, and in Salisbury on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, which makes up most of the district’s territory. The ads will run until primary day.

Kirk Walder, the spokesman for Republicans who Care, said, “It’s no secret” that the centrist Gilchrest “is an SEIU Republican.” Stephanie Mueller, a spokeswoman for SEIU, said Gilchrest stands up for workers on key issues, including his recent votes for motions to override President Bush’s vetoes of legislation aimed at expanding the major federal children’s health insurance program, as well as his votes to increase the minimum wage, reauthorize the Head Start program pre-school program for disadvantaged children and provide student loan relief.

The SEIU has been associated with such Democratic Party figures as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio — and made a splash prior to the 2004 presidential primaries by backing the campaign of Howard Dean, whose appeal was largely to liberal activists who opposed the Iraq war. But Mueller said that the union gave money to Republicans Who Care “with the understanding it would be used to support different Republican candidates.” She stated that of the 1.9 million union members, more than 300,000 (16 percent) of them are registered Republicans.

Mueller noted that the SEIU has given money to and/or endorsed other moderate Republicans and even some who might be seen as somewhat conservative, such as Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Reps. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California and Steven C. LaTourette of Ohio.

Walder defended his group’s acceptance of SEIU money and the using it on an ad run attacking Gilchrest’s primary opponents, saying that the conservative group known as the Club for Growth has spent heavily on anti-Gilchrest ads to benefit the campaign of a conservative challenger, state Sen. Andy Harris. “It’s unfortunate they are trying to defeat Republicans,” Walder said of the Club for Growth.

Other Gilchrest supporters note that the incumbent has been endorsed by Bush, who received 62 percent of the 1st District vote in his 2004 general election, even though Gilchrest has had some major policy disagreements with the president.

But Pat Toomey, the former Pennsylvania congressman who heads The Club for Growth, argues that the union’s involvement confirms his group’s contention that Gilchrest is not conservative enough to continue representing the 1st District.

“On the campaign trail, Wayne Gilchrest claims that he is a conservative, but it is clear that he doesn’t even come close,” Toomey declared. “Wayne Gilchrest is not a conservative, and one has to wonder how Rep. Gilchrest can even call himself a Republican when the same labor union that supported John Kerry and Howard Dean is funding his re-election effort.”

Chris Meekins, Harris’ campaign manager, alleged, “This is an outrageous money-laundering scheme from a left-wing Democratic labor union attempting to assist Gilchrest’s campaign. It is clear Republicans and conservatives are no longer supporting Gilchrest, so he has to turn to people who do — liberal special interest groups.”

But the other major challenger, state Sen. E. J. Pipkin, took shots at both opponents, saying through Mike Brown, his campaign manager, “It is amazing to me that Pat Toomey would comment on Club for Growth activities given their track record of illegal activity.” But he added about Republicans Who Care, “This is more Washington business-as-usual and is another example of why it’s time for Gilchrest to go ... and for the record, we are not taking union money.”

The Republicans Who Care ad questions the fiscal conservatism of both Pipkin and Harris — who have been campaigning heavily on their claims that they have cut spending and taxes — by saying they both voted for millions of dollars in spending for projects such as a music hall in Montgomery County and redecoration of state legislative offices in Annapolis. And after reiterating that Marylanders recently received a big tax increase, it ends by telling voters, “No more big spending votes that waste our taxes.”

The Club for Growth attacked the ad, saying it is “completely disingenuous” and noting that Gilchrest has voted for congressional “earmarks” to fund projects such as the Maine Lobster Institute.

Meanwhile, the political action committee of another moderate group, the Republican Main Street Partnership, is doing a $50,000 radio ad campaign on Baltimore talk radio stations going after only Harris, accusing him of supporting earmarked state projects. These ads also highlight the endorsements Gilchrest has received from Bush and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.


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