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As Clinton and Obama struggle, so do the unions behind each

March 5, 2008 |  9:56 pm

Some people think the ongoing struggle between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton is about, well, Democratic presidential politics.  Silly them!

The campaign is also a titanic battle among unions, as newly filed financial figures revealed today to the expert eyes of The Times' Dan Morain.

The American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees spent $1 million on ads supporting Clinton in Texas and Ohio recently. The money went through American Leadership Project, a newly formed organization...

backing her candidacy.  Altogether, AFSCME has spent $5 million on Clinton’s behalf since December.

AFSCME delivered its latest $1 million on Feb. 29.  The late surge wasn't revealed until the American Leadership Project made its first campaign finance filing with the Federal Election Commission today, the day after Texas and Ohio voted to keep Clinton in the race.

The American Leadership Project aired $833,000 worth of pro-Clinton television ads in Texas and Ohio and has $300,000 in the bank for a new round of TV messages likely in Pennsylvania for its April 22 voting.  The project disclosed it had raised $1.16 million overall.

But even at that significant rate, AFSCME was outspent by the rival Service Employees International Union, which backs Obama.  Since January, SEIU and its affiliates spent $5.4 million to help Obama win the nomination, with the bulk of television and get-out-the-vote efforts pouring into Texas and Ohio.

Four years ago, both AFSCME and SEIU backed Howard Dean's failed bid.  Since then the labor groups have gone their separate ways.  In fact, they’re now fighting each other over representation of many of the same workers, particularly those in healthcare and home care.

Notwithstanding its name, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees represents more federal workers than any other union.

The head of AFSCME is Gerald McEntee, a longtime Clinton friend.  McEntee’s union remained part of the AFL-CIO when SEIU pulled out of the national organization in 2005 and created Change to Win with a few other smaller unions that also have endorsed Obama, including the Teamsters and Unite-HERE, the culinary workers’ union.

SEIU is the nation’s largest union.  Among its top issues, SEIU has been urging an overhaul of the healthcare system that would include more government involvement.  So guess what's near the top of the agenda of both candidates?

SEIU, meanwhile, is already aiming at the general election Nov. 4.  Along with billionaire George Soros, the Service Employees Union is taking a leading role funding Democracy Alliance, yet another newly formed independent group that gave $400,000 to even another group, the Campaign to Defend America.

And you'll never guess which Republican presidential nominee named John McCain that group began advertising against.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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