Rather than hoarding its money to spend against President Bush, a public employees union has spent at least $1.6 million on get-out-the-vote efforts for Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean (search).

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (search) political action committee is spending the money independently of Dean's campaign, which allows it to devote as much as it wants to the efforts.

It has spent at least $1.3 million over the last two weeks on mailings, polling, phone banks, ads and other primary spending in several early-voting states. Those include Iowa, which held its presidential caucuses last week; South Carolina, New Mexico and Arizona, which vote Feb. 3; Michigan, which has its primary Feb. 7; and Wisconsin, which votes Feb. 17.

The union PAC's resources come at a crucial time for Dean. Despite support from AFSCME and other key unions, the former Vermont governor and former front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination finished third behind Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards in Iowa. He also has been placing well behind Kerry in various polls in New Hampshire, which holds the nation's first primary Tuesday.

The spending also comes as Dean has scaled back his advertising to focus on New Hampshire and prepares to reprioritize his spending after that. Dean raised a Democratic record $41 million last year — nearly double the total of his nearest money rival, John Kerry — but has declined to say how much he has left.

It is unusual for an interest group such as Democratic-leaning AFSCME's PAC to devote so much money to a primary involving a political party it supports, particularly when all the candidates are sympathetic to its causes and a costly general election fight against Bush is coming up.

Ricky Feller, director of the AFSCME People Qualified PAC, said it was new for the group to spend so much so early in a presidential nominating season, but believes that Dean, whom AFSCME endorsed, is worth it.

"We think he is the most electable," Feller said. "I think some of the other contenders naturally have good labor records but we think he is the most electable and has the best shot of defeating Bush."

In all, the PAC has spent at least $1.6 million on pro-Dean efforts dating back to late November. It is reaching out to non-AFSCME members, while the union itself focuses on get-out-the-vote efforts involving the union rank and file. The two are barred under campaign finance rules from coordinating their spending plans with each other or the Dean campaign.

The PAC plans to spend on Dean's behalf in additional states in coming weeks, Feller said, adding that he was unwilling to say where or how much because it would reveal strategy.

Feller said he wasn't looking as far ahead as the March 2 "Super Tuesday," however. That's when 11 states, including three of the most expensive to campaign in — California, New York and Ohio — hold primaries.

The AFSCME PAC raised at least $4.5 million last year and spent at least $3.9 million. Its latest campaign finance report, covering November, showed it started December with about $1.4 million on hand to spend.

The Service Employees International Union (search) Take Back America PAC is also spending in support of Dean independent of his campaign.

The SEIU political action committee has devoted at least $884,000 to pro-Dean efforts in the past month, including spending on mailings, phone banks and TV ads. Its independent expenditure reports to the Federal Election Commission didn't detail which states the spending focused on.