WASHINGTON – The AFL-CIO's new "super" political action committee won't spend much on television ads, but will focus instead on mobilizing thousands of union and nonunion voters, officials at the labor federation said Thursday.
Labor leaders are targeting about 14,000 union work sites around the country to help turn out voters for President Barack Obama and other labor-friendly Democrats.
The Workers' Voice super PAC has raised about $5.4 million since it was formed last year in response to a landmark Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited cash in support of, or against, political candidates.
That's a fraction of what conservative super PACs have raised with corporate donations. But while most super PACs have focused largely on television advertising, AFL-CIO leaders say they will use the cash to out-organize their GOP-leaning competitors.
"We were outspent 20-to-1 last time," said AFL-CIO political director Mike Podhorzer, referring to the 2010 elections. "We will probably be outspent 20-to-1 this time. But we are going to out-organize them by more than 20-to-1."
The Supreme Court's 2010 decision also frees union campaign workers to target any voters, not just those in union households. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler called the Workers' Voice program a "radically different" model that would merge organized labor's extensive phone bank and canvassing operations with the power of online social networks.
"Workers' Voice isn't about political parties or individual candidates," she said. "It will focus on activating and energizing networks of working families all across the country, both union and non-union."
While most of the money contributed to the Super PAC so far has come from unions, Podhorzer said the AFL-CIO has begun ramping up efforts to raise small dollar amounts from outside donors.
The program is a departure from the AFL-CIO's political strategy in past years, where grassroots organizing was mostly a top-down structure emphasizing short-term results in the months before major elections.
Now, the labor federation is building a year-round political operation that stresses personal contact with voters and continues working even after the election season is over.
Follow Sam Hananel's labor coverage on Twitter at http://twitter.com/shananel