Citizens United Lets Unions Canvass for More Votes

Sandra Williams checks her list of union households as she canvasses Jackson Township, Pa., on behalf of the AFL-CIO, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008. Last election unions could only canvass among union members. Not anymore.

Sandra Williams checks her list of union households as she canvasses Jackson Township, Pa., on behalf of the AFL-CIO, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008. Last election, unions could only canvass among their own members. Not anymore. (AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam)

October 11, 2012
This story is part of a joint investigation into new campaign finance regulations by Marketplace and FRONTLINE. On Oct. 30, watch Big Sky, Big Money, the story of how the Citizens United ruling is changing political campaigns.

The Citizens United Supreme Court decision has allowed unprecedented spending in state and national elections this year.

But it’s also had an unintended effect that has boosted unions in their effort to canvass for votes, according to a new report from Marketplace.

Before the ruling, unions could only knock on the doors of union members. Now, they can reach out to anyone, giving union canvassers a much bigger and more influential ground-game.

The AFL-CIO, the federation of labor organizations, plans to have 400,000 staff and volunteers canvassing nationwide by election day — double the number they did in 2008, reports Nancy Marshall-Genzer. The federation also has its own super PAC, Workers’ Voice, which has raised about $7 million to funnel into its canvassing work.

But, as Charlotte Garden, who teaches labor and constitutional law at Seattle University, says in the report, it’s “a fairly thin silver lining” for the unions: the AFL-CIO is still being outspent 15-to-1 by corporations.

Listen the full story here:


Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Former Series Senior Editor, FRONTLINE

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