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U.S. Chamber of Commerce targets Al Franken and his pro-labor stand

October 14, 2008 |  1:16 pm

Labor's ability to organize workers is one of the major issues bubbling up in this year’s campaign, though it garners far less attention than broader questions of the economy, healthcare and war.

It’s playing out in the presidential campaign and in several House and Senate races across the country, especially in one of the nation's hottest -- Republican incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota against Democratic challenger, Al Franken, the former comedian.

Franken, the former Saturday Night Live writer and star, has raised at least $13.1 million to Coleman’s $16.7 million.

The campaign has turned especially nasty with allegations that a wealthy donor bought suits for Coleman, a charge Coleman has denied. Coleman has promised to dial down his attacks against Franken. But that doesn't apply to outside groups.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent $1.44 million in Minnesota, most of it on sharp-edged ads attacking Franken over his support of labor’s position on the Employee Free Choice Act, which is pending on Congress. Here's a smart article about the issue.

J.P. Fielder, chief chamber spokesman, called Franken's stand "comical," though he wasn't laughing.

Al_franken The labor-backed legislation would make it easier for unions to organize by allowing them to convince a majority of employees to sign cards supporting the union, rather than holding secret ballot elections. Employers would have to remain neutral on such organizing efforts.

Barack Obama embraces the concept. John McCain is talking on the stump about his opposition to it. The Chamber of Commerce is leading the fight against it. The Chamber fears labor could push through the legislation if Democrats gain a 60-40-seat majority in the Senate. That's where the Franken-Coleman contest comes in.

“Workers ought to be able to keep their right to secret ballot. It is a huge deal,” Fielder said, adding that protecting Coleman is “at the top of our list in terms of all our races.”

Fielder said the chamber intends to spend more than the $20 million it spent two years ago on congressional races. Federal Election Commission filings show it already has spent $11 million.

It has spent the most, $2.1 million, in New Hampshire, where it's defending incumbent John Sununu against Jeanne Shaheen, the former governor. There, the Chamber is attacking Shaheen over taxes.

Organized labor also is spending heavily. The nation's largest union, Service Employees International Union, plans to spend $85 million on federal races from the presidency on down by the time votes are cast Nov. 4.

-- Dan Morain

Photo credit: Jim Mone/AP