Labor and business battle for soul of Southern Democrats

By Jordan Green, Yes! Weekly

There's significant money and vocal expectations on both sides of the Employee Free Choice Act, for which North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan could be a critical vote.

Labor unions contributed heavily to Hagan's successful bid last year to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

Mark Binker has reported in the News & Record that labor unions gave Hagan more than $250,000 in the 2008 campaign. The Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics breaks down contributions to the Hagan campaign from labor unions, totaling $132,550:

1. National Education Association -- $12,300
2. Teamsters Union -- $10,250
3. AFL-CIO PAC -- $10,000
4. Air Line Pilots Association -- $10,000
5. American Federation of Teachers -- $10,000
6. Communication Workers of America -- $10,000
7. International Association of Fire Fighters -- $10,000
8. Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union -- $10,000
9. Office & Professional Employees Union -- $10,000
10. Plumbers/Pipefitters Union -- $10,000
11. Service Employees International Union -- $10,000
12. Sheet Metal Workers Union -- $10,000
13. United Food & Commercial Workers Union -- $10,000

Despite the fact that Hagan did not sign on as a cosponsor to the Employee Free Choice Act, her continued support for the legislation has been received with appreciation from the NC AFL-CIO.

Anti-union forces have been no less vocal, beginning with Americans For Prosperity, whose North Carolina chapter specifically targeted Hagan in a "Save My Ballot" rally in Greensboro in February.

Americans For Prosperity's funding can be traced back to Kansas-based Koch Industries, whose political action committee, members, employees and their immediate family members strongly backed Hagan's opponent to the tune of $23,600 in last year's election.

Other companies linked to efforts to derail the Employee Free Choice Act include Charlotte-based Bank of America and Atlanta-based Home Depot, whose political action committee slightly favored Republicans over Democrats last year.

The Huffington Post has somewhat famously reported that Bank of America hosted a conference call with business leaders and conservative activists last October to organize opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. Other participants reportedly included AIG, Home Depot cofounder Bernie Marcus, Rick Berman of the Center for Union Facts.

Bank of America is Hagan's fifth-ranked contributor, with a total $19,050, but the company's political action commmittee, members, employees and their immediate family members have given more to the Dole campaign.

New York-based Citigroup has also reportedly hosted a conference call to build opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act.

The political math behind the fate of the Employee Free Choice Act remains uncertain. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania's announcement on Tuesday that he will switch from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party and the likelihood that Al Franken will be seated to represent Minnesota presents the realization of the Democrats' goal to achieve a filibuster-proof majority. However, as President Obama acknowledged during his press conference on Wednesday, Specter holds a reputation for voting independently of any party.

Opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act have hinted that they may apply pressure on conservative, business-friendly Democrats from the South to prevent the bill's passage.

"I agree with Bernie that if there are not enough Republicans operating as a firewall after this election it is going to be very hard to hold the line," Rick Berman can be heard saying in a recording of the conference call last October. "The only way after the election if we don't have a filibuster-proof Senate is to make this so hot for some Democrats -- Mary Landrieu from Louisiana would be one -- there is a possibility, I would say there is a remote possibility, in some states that even a Democrat who is up for reelection in 2010 has to think twice about whether they're going to let this thing go by, but I'm not certain that it's doable."

Actually, Landrieu was up for reelection last year. Maybe Berman was thinking of Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, who faces reelection in 2010. Like Hagan, Lincoln has not signed on as a cosponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act. The senator from Arkansas cast one of the 51 votes for cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act in 2007 (60 are needed to bring the bill to the floor for consideration), but likely has mixed feelings. Lincoln received $25,800 from Wal-Mart Stores, a staunchly anti-union corporation from the senator's home state, in the 2008 election cycle. The big-box retailer was Lincoln's third largest contributor.

The only Senate Democrats from the South, not counting the two members of the Maryland delegation, who are cosponsors of the Employee Free Choice Act are Bill Nelson of Florida and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

Meanwhile, both labor and anti-union forces have staked significant resources on Senate Democrats from the South.

Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia has received $30,250 from labor unions since he was first elected in 2006. And Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia received $12,000 from the Communication Workers of America in the 2008 election cycle.

On the other side, Home Depot's political action committee made significant outlays to Southern Democrats in the 2008 election cycle: $10,000 to Mark Warner of Virginia, $5,000 to Landrieu, $4,500 to Mark Pryor of Arkansas and $2,000 to Lincoln. Bank of America's political action committee gave $10,000 to Warner, $10,000 to Landrieu and $6,000 to Pryor. And Citigroup's political action committee gave $6,000 to Pryor, $4,000 to Warner and $1,000 to Lincoln.

Jordan Green is News Editor at Yes! Weekly in Greensboro, N.C. and an Associate Editor of Southern Exposure magazine.