Wisconsin shines light on Big Labor’s big money

As Wisconsin casts its vote on Tuesday, it appears Ted Cruz can rest easy: The Texas senator is projected to take home most of the states’ delegates. 

And despite trailing Donald Trump for the time being, Cruz’s diatribe against the “special interests and lobbyists in Washington” has certainly hit home in Wisconsin and around the country. It speaks not only to the anti-establishment fervor stoking the flames, but also Cruz’s ability to capitalize on the anger and frustration of the American electorate.

It’s no coincidence the Cruz crescendo is resonating in Wisconsin of all places. The state has waged a long war against the “special interests” of politically inclined union bosses and their crony relations with Washington power brokers. 

Under Governor Scott Walker—who endorsed the Texas senator prior to primary day—the state has reigned in the power of Big Labor by establishing “right-to-work” and democratizing the union voting process.

Beginning in 2011, the Wisconsin governor used labor reform—from prohibiting mandatory dues to guaranteeing recertification elections—to hold the union political machine accountable to the rank-and-file. In Walker’s words, “We took the power away from the big-government special interests and put it firmly in the hands of the hard-working taxpayers.”

That message is right up Cruz’s alley: “What you all have done in the state of Wisconsin is exactly what we need to do in Washington,” he recently told radio host Charlie Sykes. “When [Governor Walker] and millions of men and women across Wisconsin stood up and took on the union bosses, it was powerful, it inspired people across the country.”

The inspiration says something about Big Labor’s political clout. Union bosses have long been the Democratic Party’s personal ATM, even though about 40 percent of union members vote Republican in any given election cycle. 

New research from the Center for Union Facts shows America’s major labor unions donated more than $418 million to the Democratic Party and left-wing special interest groups from 2012 to 2014. Almost $150 million wound up with think tanks supportive of a job-killing $15 minimum wage—now adopted in California—and other liberal initiatives. NextGen Climate and other radical environmental groups received millions in funding, as did left-wing media outlets including The Nation and In These Times. 

Among the ten major recipients of union money were the Democratic Governors Association ($7.8 million) and Catalist ($5.1 million). The latter is a leading Democratic data firm and has been described as “[President] Obama’s database for transforming America.”

They weren’t the only winners. Democracy Alliance—George Soros’ secretive network of liberal donors—received more than $2 million in union money from 2012 to 2014, while the Clinton Foundation made off with over $1.3 million. (Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has received her fair share of union endorsements.)

Much to the chagrin of the roughly 40 percent of union members voting Republican, Big Labor is effectively one large Democratic Super PAC—a fact that even Howard Dean recently acknowledged

It’s why Cruz has made it his mission to confront the union political machine and take Governor Walker’s reforms national. He is a vocal supporter of the Employee Rights Act (ERA), national legislation which would update American labor law to protect union employees. (Walker also supported the bill as a presidential candidate.) Now co-sponsored by more than 120 members of Congress, the ERA would require union bosses to obtain opt-in permission from their members before spending their dues money supporting political interest groups.

If the 2016 election has made one thing clear, it’s that taking on “special interests” will win votes—in Wisconsin and beyond. And there’s no bigger “special interest” than Big Labor. 

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Richard Berman is the president of Berman and Company, a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C. 

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