More Insider Tales: Union Leaders Back the Less Pro-Union Candidate
by Gaius Publius
More insider tales. Last November we noted that "Sanders Momentum Stalls in Union Front Offices" as unions that endorse candidates based on top-down decision-making are backing Clinton, while unions that endorse in a bottom-up way, by a vote of their membership, endorse Sanders.
Put simply, unions as organizations aren't insiders, but long-time union leaders are, especially at the national level. And like it or not, this is a friends-of-insiders vs. revolutionary reform election.
Insiders Helping Insiders
Bernie Sanders spoke twice with Rachel Maddow on this division between progressive (or "progressive") orgs and their members. For example, consider this (Sanders speaking; my emphasis):
So, I have friends and supporters in the Human Rights Fund [sic; he means the Human Rights Campaign (HRC)] and Planned Parenthood. But, you know what? Hillary Clinton has been around there for a very, very long time. Some of these groups are, in fact, part of the establishment. I will challenge anyone with regard to my record on LGBT issues. You know, I was one off the few, relatively few, to oppose and vote against DOMA, etc. In terms of women's rights, I believe we have a 100% lifetime pro-choice record.Taking them one at a time, Planned Parenthood is non-profit organization that does important and revolutionary work running reproductive health care clinics. They also do political work via a PAC, a super PAC and a variety of 501(c)(4) organizations. The Human Rights Campaign is a very well funded organization that advocates for gay-rights issues. Both organizations, and many others like them, are led by people who very often have strong historical ties to the Democratic Party.
In some cases, those ties lead to endorsements that don't align with records of the endorsed candidates. For example, as Sanders said above, "I will challenge anyone with regard to my record on LGBT issues." Here's that record:
By all measures, Sanders was ahead of his time in supporting gay rights. In 1983, as mayor of Burlington, he signed a Gay Pride Day proclamation calling it a civil rights issue. He was one of just 67 members in the House of Representatives to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, a politically tough decision he prides himself on and points to as a key progressive bona fide. Sanders opposed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 1993, another President Bill Clinton-era policy, and supported civil unions in Vermont in 2000.And here's a review of Hillary Clinton's record. Yet given these clear differences, the Human Rights Campaign has endorsed Clinton for president, and done so ahead of any voting in any primary or caucus. The head of HRC is Chad Griffin. You get a taste of Mr. Griffin and his life here (my emphasis):
“I’m not evolving when it comes to gay rights. I was there,” Sanders told the New York Times earlier this year.
Some said Sanders was correct in labeling as “establishment” the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT group known for black-tie fundraising dinners, lauding corporations with pro-LGBT records in its Corporate Equality Index, close ties to Democratic Party leaders and support for Republicans who back LGBT rights (even when their Democratic opponents are stronger on LGBT issues).Complaints about HRC from within the gay-rights activist community are common, and they are accurately represented above. Michelangelo Signorile, a leading gay-rights voice, says that Sanders has a "stellar gay rights record" and wonders aloud why Griffin chose to endorse Clinton, especially this early in the cycle (again, my emphasis):
The day after Sanders made the comments, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, was in Davos, Switzerland, to attend the World Economic Forum where Vice President Joseph Biden spoke in support of international LGBT rights.
Andrew Miller, a member of the New York-based grassroots group Queer Nation, said Sanders’ comments were accurate.
“I’m surprised Chad Griffin wasn’t flattered that Bernie Sanders labeled HRC ‘part of the political establishment,'” Miller said. “Griffin, who has just returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, certainly runs the organization as if that’s what they aspire to. It’s gratifying that at least one American politician understood — at least for a moment — that HRC represents the 1 percent, not the majority of the LGBT community nor the values of LGBT Americans.”
The only answer to that question has to do with access to the White House, and perhaps what the Clinton campaign may have said to HRC, and to Planned Parenthood, the Brady Campaign on Gun Violence and other groups that have endorsed early, about the kind of access they might get -- and what they might not get if they didn't endorse now. (Let's also not forget that Chad Griffin, HRC's president, worked in Bill Clinton's administration, and raised much money as a bundler for Obama's and Clinton's campaigns.) And it is a campaign that needs those endorsements now, calling in its chips, as Bernie Sanders and his insurgency has taken the Clintonites by surprise.Is this proved? No. Is it likely? On its face, yes. Insiders helping insiders stay inside, even when the evidence (and the optics) are against them.
Union Leaders Back the Less Pro-Union Candidate
Which brings us to the major labor unions. Andrew Perez and David Sirota, writing about this in IBT, open this way:
Election 2016: Hillary Clinton Super PACs Fueled By Labor MoneyIndeed, if you learn nothing else from this, that's all you need to know. Both Clintons in particular and the Democratic Party establishment in general have deep ties to the leadership of a great many national unions. Thus the "one hand washes the other" phenomenon, even when the Democratic Party hand is by far the dirtier, and frequently works against the interests of the union hand.
In recent years, Hillary Clinton has staked out high-profile positions against some of organized labor’s top priorities — but that has not stopped powerful forces in the labor movement from backing her campaign against an opponent who is one of Congress’ staunchest union supporters. In fact, even as Clinton has lately derided one of labor’s major healthcare priorities, unions have delivered millions of dollars to the groups supporting her White House bid, according to newly released campaign finance reports.
Perez and Sirota continue:
In all, major unions have given more than $6.3 million to an array of Clinton-aligned organizations, including $5.5 million to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC that backed President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign before it was repurposed as a pro-Clinton vehicle. While the group struggled to raise money early this election cycle, it disclosed on Sunday that it brought in more than $41 million last year, and had nearly $36 million on hand at the end of December.Yet on the issues, Clinton should be the clear loser. Instead, she's the clear winner:
Unions have also contributed more than $800,000 to two outside groups — American Bridge 21st Century and Correct the Record — affiliated with longtime Clinton surrogate David Brock.
That money is flowing to Clinton, despite her having a more mixed record on labor issues than the Vermont independent.There's more at the link, but this gives you all of the gist of the problem.
For instance, while Clinton recently renounced her support for the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, she backed that trade deal and other accords that Sanders and unions opposed. Clinton has also suggested in the past that unions’ push to curb job offshoring is misguided. "There is no way to legislate against reality," she said in 2005.
In recent days, Clinton slammed Sanders’ push to expand Medicare to cover all Americans — a so-called single-payer healthcare initiative that many of the unions supporting her campaign have said is one of their top priorities. One such labor group, the American Federation of Teachers, gave $1 million to Priorities USA and $50,000 to Correct the Record in late December, one month after Clinton charged that Sanders’ single-payer plan would require a massive tax hike on the middle class. The teachers union money came to the Clinton-linked groups even though she has touted the charter school movement that unions oppose.
Check the graphic at the top again. Eight of the groups listed are unions and all endorsed based on a vote of the executive board. Clinton strongly supported TPP until just recently, Sanders has opposed "free trade" deals like NAFTA since forever, and yet Clinton gets the union money. Clinton is aligned with the charter school movement — a "student-first" union-killing favorite — and the AFT sends her $1,000,000 anyway (pdf; see page 28).
Why does the more Republican wing of the party, the TPP wing, for example, contain most of its insiders? And why do those insiders enjoy disproportional support of leaders of allied non-profit organizations? I'll leave you to speculate, but again, on its face the answer is obvious.
Can the Democratic Party Get Out of its Own Way?
It's not that it's bad to be an insider. It's that it's bad to use insider status to serve yourself first (ensuring your own "access" to power, privileges and advancement) while placing second — or third, or worse — the interests and needs of your organizations' constituents.
I hope that Hillary Clinton, if she wins the nomination, does so without an obvious insider thumb on the scales — like that of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former Clinton campaign co-chair and current head of the debate-killing DNC, for example. Because if it looks to the legions of Sanders supporters that Sanders lost because insiders unfairly weighted the scales against the "will of the people" and toward the "Republican wing" of the Party, the TPP wing of the Party — those supporters may never vote Democratic again.
Can the Democratic Party get out of its own way and become ... democratic ... again? If it can't, it may be in a world of trouble, all of its own making.
(Blue America has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president. If you'd like to help out, go here; you can adjust the split any way you like at the link. If you'd like to "phone-bank for Bernie," go here. You can volunteer in other ways by going here. And thanks!)