I consider the folks at IBEW Local 481 my brothers and sisters in arms.
I’ve phone-banked out of their hall at 1828 North Meridian Street on at least a dozen Democratic campaigns, and a few weeks ago, I attended Democratic Superior Court Judge David Dreyer's holiday party there. (Kountry Kitchen wowed again. If you haven't been, make a point of going - 1831 N. College Avenue).
So how do I explain the $5,000 IBEW Local 481 gave to Republican Carl Brizzi's 5th District Congressional campaign on May 13, 2009? (Technically the donation is from the IBEW PAC in D.C., but that doesn't happen without local boosting, and Brizzi's campaign lists it as a 481 donation).
Democrats have such strong relationships with unions, it's easy to expect them to support only Democrats. That's unfair. Unions are interest groups, and their leaders survive by safeguarding their members' interests. Sometimes unions have to keep peace with an incumbent Republican likely to win re-election. This may be why the IBEW supported Brizzi in 2006 when he ran against Democrat Melina Kennedy.
If you read contribution reports, you'll know car dealers donate to Attorneys General, manufaturers donate to Governors, and stock brokers donate to Secretaries of State. Why? To keep enforcement bodies out of their hair.
The offices Republican candidates do well garnering union support in are law enforcement-related (prosecutor, sheriff). This makes all the sense in the world. Were I running a union, I'd like the comfort of knowing a prosecutor wouldn't pounce on my local and get headlines only to say later, "Sorry, we were mistaken." As Tim Durham knows, you can't buy back credibility.
Just as often, though, unions have to choose the lesser of evils. Maybe the IBEW viewed Brizzi as the least offensive Republican candidate in a district certainly staying Republican. (The the other R candidates are Brose McVey, Luke Messer, Mike Murphy, and Dr. John McGoff). Brizzi certainly couldn't have done worse than Burton, who has a 14% lifetime AFL-CIO voting record.
I understand tough choices. What I don't understand is the timing. Brizzi repeatedly said he would not run unless Burton retired, so why not wait until Burton stepped aside?
I ask because at the close of September of 2009, Brizzi still had $22,000 in his federal campaign committee coffer. It would have been $23,000, but two weeks after receiving that IBEW donation, Brizzi gave $1,000 to Mike Pence.
Yes, the Mike Pence with 0% AFL-CIO rating in 2008 and a lifetime rating of 7%. You know, the chair of the House Republican Conference, committed to regaining GOP control at the midterm elections. Since Pence doesn’t have any real challenge this time around (sorry Dems), all the IBEW’s money could end in the account of a staunch opponent of organized labor. Less than fifty days after Brizzi's donation, Pence shipped $25,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The moral of the story is that giving a donation to a Republican at the inception of a five-way fire-fight that you don't even know he's in is not the same as giving it to him in a two-way shoot-out that's near the finish line. It’s also not the same as paying for independent expenditures that you control. When you hand over a check without conditions, all bets are off.
IBEW 481's history of massive donations, manpower, facilities, and political strategy to Democrats will always outweigh an occasional ill-fated decision like this, but I hope other unions will view this post as a cautionary tale.
Before you hand a check over to a "lesser evil," you might want a commitment that the candidate will use the money for his own race or refund it. Otherwise, you risk propping up those who would destroy everything you wish to preserve or achieve.
UPDATE: The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 103 also gave Brizzi $1,000 on May 27, 2009. They also gave $1,000 to now defunct Republican sheriff candidate, Tim Motsinger, on March 6, 2009, and another $500 on May 8, 2009, donations that illustrate nicely my point about unions and law enforcement R candidates. In folding up his committee, Motsinger stated:
I have made the decision that it is appropriate to return any and all financial contributions and loans that my campaign has received from him (Tim Durham) or his affiliated businesses.
As Local 103 isn't a Durham company, I'm assuming it didn't get its money back from Motsinger. Was it spent, or will there be another Republican committee benefitting from labor union generosity?