White House denies assisting Wis. union, but ties run deep 

White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer is claiming that "This is a Wisconsin story, not a Washington one," contradicting the Washington Post's reporting that the president and his political apparatus has gotten deeply involved in the effort. But Pfeiffer fails to acknowledge that unions, particularly in the public sector, and President Obama's apparatus are the same thing, having worked to get out the vote for Democrats for years.

The Wall Street Journal reported last October that American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees head of political operations Larry Scanlon said that when it comes to campaign spending, they're "the big dog. But we don't like to brag." From the story:

[AFSCME] is now the biggest outside spender of the 2010 elections, thanks to an 11th-hour effort to boost Democrats that has vaulted the public-sector union ahead of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and a flock of new Republican groups in campaign spending.

The 1.6 million-member AFSCME is spending a total of $87.5 million on the elections after tapping into a $16 million emergency account to help fortify the Democrats' hold on Congress. Last week, AFSCME dug deeper, taking out a $2 million loan to fund its push. The group is spending money on television advertisements, phone calls, campaign mailings and other political efforts, helped by a Supreme Court decision that loosened restrictions on campaign spending.

AFSCME is an arm of the Democratic Party just as much as the Democratic Party is a part of AFSCME -- the symbiotic relationship is clear in every political position staked out by the union, which happily coincides with the party's consensus. So small wonder that the Washington Post reported:

The president's political machine worked in close coordination Thursday with state and national union officials to get thousands of protesters to gather in Madison and to plan similar demonstrations in other state capitals.

Pfeiffer's flat denial, appearing in the New York Times, also contradicts the DNC's own communications director's tweet, as reported by Alana Goodman:

But apparently someone forget to tell the DNC’s communication director Bob Woodhouse to scrub his Twitter feed to reflect this new strategy. Doug Ross has pointed out a Feb. 17 Tweet from Woodhouse saying that the White House was “proudly” playing a role in the protest.

The eagerness to claim credit, apparently, has wound up being an obstacle to the whole grassroots narrative. But even the claim that AFSCME, the AFL-CIO, or even the SEIU, are representative of some kind of grassroots movement denies everything we know about unions. First is their political access: Then-SEIU president Andy Stern not only served on the president's deficit commission, he was also the top visitor to the White House in 2009, the first year Obama was in office. Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO's head boss, is on tape saying that he talks to someone at the White House every day.

There's a word for this, and it's not "grassroots."

UPDATE (12pm):

I started to look at the campaign money but Carney had already beat me to it:

Government unions in Wisconsin perfectly match the definition of "special interests," a term Obama often invokes. Four of the top six Wisconsin contributors to the 2010 elections were labor unions, with the state's teachers union giving $119,342 and the Wisconsin chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees spending $83,888. The teachers union gave 96 percent of its money to Democrats, while Wisconsin AFSCME gave Democrats every penny.

Government unions spent $573,868 on Wisconsin's 2010 elections -- almost all of it going to Democrats -- while government employees spent another half million, with most going to Democrats.

A large organization that requires member dues for political representation to provide government subsidies for its members isn't grassroots at all. It's a special interest.

About The Author

J.P. Freire

J.P. Freire is the associate editor of commentary. Previously he was the managing editor of the American Spectator. Freire was named journalist of the year for 2009 by the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). You can follow him on Twitter here. Besides the Spectator, Freire's work has appeared in... more
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