Today, the Service Employees International Unions (SEIU) finds itself at the center of two evolving pay-for-play political scandals. In Illinois, a high ranking SEIU union official appears to have agreed to run the traps for Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s attempt to sell off President-elect Obama’s Senate seat.
At the same time, an equally appalling scandal is happening in plain sight in Washington. A diverse array of players, including SEIU, President-elect Barack Obama, indicted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and scandal-plagued activist group ACORN, are wielding their political power to push for passage of the deceptively-named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would effectively eliminate secret ballot union elections. The bill would expose employees to intimidation and coercion, and should really be called the Employee Forced Choice Act.
Led by SEIU President Andy Stern, the labor union movement has effectively bought and paid for EFCA. Across the country, union political operatives demanded that Democratic politicians agree to support EFCA before receiving unions’ support during the 2008 election.
The tie that binds these two scandals is SEIU’s central role as political power broker.
Putting Together the Pieces:
- SEIU has set aside $10 million to “unelect” any politician that breaks his or her promise to support EFCA.
- SEIU spent $85 million in quid pro quo election support in the 2008 election cycle for politicians who support EFCA. That led the Investors Business Daily Editorial Board to write that Stern considers the $85 million an “investment.” Beyond the SEIU, the labor union movement spent $450 million to elect Obama, Democratic senators, and other politicians that promised to support EFCA. Supporting EFCA was a “litmus test” for receiving union campaign cash.
- SEIU’s Illinois Political Action Committee gave Gov. Blagojevich $908,000, making it the single largest campaign contributor for his re-election campaign. In fact, labor unions comprised 9 of his top 15 donors. In turn, Blagojevich signed a state law handing over 49,000 state child care workers to SEIU local 880, which is run by the notorious community organizing group ACORN (no joke). The deal nearly tripled SEIU 880’s income from $7 million in 2005 to $21 in 2007.
- There are long-standing ties between the Chicago branch of ACORN (The Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now) and SEIU Local 880. Former ACORN treasurer Dale Rathke embezzled more than $900,000 from that organization, while also serving as treasurer of SEIU Local 880. ACORN employees have been convicted of election-related fraud in at least 14 states. According to financial disclosure forms, SEIU 880 has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into ACORN-run organizations, including a lobbying firm headed by Dale Rathke’s brother Wade, who concealed his brother’s embezzlement from board members.
- According to the FBI indictment, Blagojevich sought a “three way deal” between the SEIU, the Obama administration, and himself. In the proposed deal, he would give the SEIU and Obama their pick for the vacated Senate seat and in return would receive either a high-paying job in the Change to Win Coalition, or leadership of a new 501(c)4 issue advocacy group with $10 to $20 million to spend.
- The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times both report that the unnamed SEIU official was SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff. Blanoff told The New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse: “I can’t comment on anything right now.”
- A SEIU official admitted to The New York Times that they helped “ferry some messages for [Blagojevich].” An anonymous senior SEIU official told the Times that “his union was one of many that backed Mr. Blagojevich and has received favors from him. But he said that it was understandable that Mr. Blagojevich would ask the service employees for favor because it was so powerful and was seen as one of the unions closest to Mr. Obama.”
- According to the indictment, the SEIU official listened to Blagojevich’s proposal and agreed to “put that flag up and see where it goes.” National Review journalist Jim Geraghty wrote: “It is not clear that the SEIU official did anything illegal in this matter, but his openness to Blagojevich’s request for a bribe certainly does not speak well of him. At the very least, this person is amenable to facilitating high-level bribery.“
- In his autobiography, Barack Obama wrote of the SEIU: “I owe those unions.” Obama was referencing the SEIU and other unions’ support for his campaign for the Illinois state legislature. He continued: “When their leaders call, I do my best to call them back right away.”