WASHINGTON – One of the nation's largest unions is forming a rival political organization to mobilize Democratic voters, especially minorities, in next year's election.
Working America Alliance, founded by Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (search), is the product of a feud with Steve Rosenthal, former AFL-CIO political director who created the Partnership for America's Families (search).
Rosenthal's group is operating in Philadelphia and Ohio, with its sights set on additional battleground states. The partnership is largely supported by an AFSCME rival, the Service Employees International Union, which claims the largest union membership in the AFL-CIO with 1.5 million members.
AFSCME is not far behind with more than 1.4 million members. Officials there are quick to point out that AFSCME spends more than any other on politics and was the first to back Bill Clinton's candidacy in the 1992 race.
In May, McEntee resigned as head of Rosenthal's organization along with the entire board after a disagreement about the inclusion of minority groups and the partnership's direction.
A cease-fire occurred in McEntee's new alliance, which will be led full time next year by Arlene Holt-Baker, former aide to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. Doug Sosnik, a former political adviser to President Clinton, will be a senior adviser.
McEntee will officially introduce the plans next week in Chicago when labor leaders meet for the AFL-CIO's executive council meeting.
Both nonprofits appear to have the same goal: to mobilize Democratic voters through constant communications and outreach, a strategy that has paid off for labor and its increasing share of turnout.
The groups will pool unions' substantial dollars that, before the new campaign finance law, would have been spent as unlimited soft-money donations to the Democratic Party to mobilize voters.
Unions spent nearly $97 million in the 2001-02 campaign cycle, mostly to elect Democrats. Almost $36 million of that was soft money. The ban remains in place until the Supreme Court decides whether the campaign finance law is constitutional, a ruling that is possible this fall.
The labor groups join another Democratic nonprofit, Moving America Forward (search), formed by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to raise money to recruit Hispanics and American Indians.
Meanwhile, the Teamsters union is considering its own political nonprofit that would support moderate Democrats and those who oppose free-trade policies.
Will the friendly-yet-competing operations annihilate each other and Democrats' chances in 2004?
Rosenthal, who wants to raise $20 million to $30 million and claims money goals are on target, says no.
"There's so much work that has to be done," he said. "The task is so huge that there's plenty of room for everybody."