Labor unions go after Republicans in tight races

WASHINGTON -- Some big labor unions are spending millions to attack vulnerable Republican senators who have long opposed their agenda in Congress, sometimes channeling their money into non-profits that don't bear their names, federal records show.

Citizens for Strength and Security, for example, has spent more than $1 million in recent weeks to attack North Carolina's Elizabeth Dole, who is locked in a contentious battle with Democrat Kay Hagan. Unions are among the group's major financial backers, including the 2-million member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which contributed $220,000 in September.

Dole and other Republicans in close Senate races have been the target of negative advertising after opposing legislation that is a top priority for unions: The Employee Free Choice Act.

The union proposal would require employers to recognize a union if a majority of employees sign cards opting to organize. Under current rules, employers can demand a more costly secret-ballot election to form a union. Labor groups say workers are threatened with job losses during such elections.

"We need to make sure we elect people in the U.S. Senate and the House and up and down the ticket ... who actually stand up for working families," said Anna Burger, SEIU's secretary-treasurer.

The bill failed in the Senate last year. Democrats need nine more seats to gain a filibuster-proof 60 votes.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is opposed to the legislation. Steven Law, the chamber's top lawyer, said the plan would "dispense with basic protections" for workers and employers. The group is spending more than $30 million to help congressional candidates it views as pro-business. It is running ads to help several GOP senators who are against the plan and are in tight races, including New Hampshire's John Sununu, Oregon's Gordon Smith and Mississippi's Roger Wicker. The ads identify the chamber.

Dole spokesman Dan McLagan said the outside advertising in North Carolina is hurting the Republican but said he remains optimistic about her prospects. He called the ads "deceptive."

If unions "were up front about who was paying for the ad, it would scare the hell out of people in North Carolina," he said. "They can make up a name. We have to put our name on our ads."

Burger said the union is not hiding its role. "The more coalitions we can build … the better off we are," she said.

Citizens for Strength and Security was established by Lora Haggard, who served as a top campaign aide to former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, federal records show. She did not return phone calls.

Unions have spent heavily under their own name in other races:

• The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the nation's largest public employees union, spent $642,000 on Monday to run an ad opposing Sununu. The union's Paul Booth said AFSCME has spent $1.2 million in Senate races.

• A consortium of unions last week called 27,000 Kentucky union members, urging them to toss out Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Senate's top Republican, who opposes the bill to ease union-organizing rules. His lead in polls against Democrat Bruce Lunsford has shrunk. Lunsford backs the bill.

"We brought (Lunsford) from behind to a tight race," said Janice Carroll-Garkovich, political director of an alliance of four unions. "We're really proud."

McConnell campaign manager Justin Brasell said "the backers of outside leftist attacks … just want another reliably liberal vote."

Lunsford spokesman Cary Stemle called that "absurd." He said McConnell also gets outside help to "distort" Lunsford record.