Unions flex muscle in N.C.

A week before election day, labor unions have given a late and large dose of money to the state Democratic party.

Union officials say they are trying to flex growing political muscle in a state that has long been hostile to organized labor. Key Democratic leaders in North Carolina, including the party's nominee for governor, say they don't support changes to the state's laws that govern unions.

Republicans, though, are raising questions about whether the contributions were designed to help Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beverly Perdue, who is in a tight race with Republican Pat McCrory.

Campaign committees for three labor unions last week gave a total of $730,000 to the N.C. Democratic Party, according to campaign finance reports filed with the N.C. State Board of Elections.

At about the same time, the state party gave Perdue's gubernatorial campaign a contribution of $875,000 and spent $245,000 to send mailers on her behalf, according to finance reports that the party filed. That represents a quarter of the $4.6 million Perdue raised in the last three months.

McCrory received a $200,000 donation from the state Republican Party in September, a campaign spokesman said. That represents 7 percent of the money McCrory raised in the last three months.

GOP suspicious of timing

While state candidates are limited to $4,000 in donations from any particular contributor, those limits do not apply to what political parties can spend and receive. Donors cannot dictate what a party does with contributions.

It is impossible to track, through public records, whether the union contributions to the state party made it to Perdue.

But Republicans were suspicious of the timing.

“It really makes one wonder why is all their energy, time and money going to Perdue,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca, the deputy Senate Republican leader. “And what do they expect to receive for their efforts?”

A spokesman for Perdue pointed out that McCrory has benefited from millions spent on advertising by the Republican Governors Association.

“With Pat McCrory welcoming all that outside money, we certainly can't unilaterally disarm in the midst of a campaign,” said Perdue spokesman David Kochman.

Detailed campaign finance reports for the last three months were due Monday, but were not publicly available late Tuesday.

The union donations were included in separate reports candidates are required to file as the election date nears. Those reports show that the Service Employees International Union gave the state Democratic Party $600,000 last week. It has given the party a total of $1.1 million for this election.

Those reports also show that a committee of the United Food and Commercial Workers International union gave the state Democratic Party $100,000 last week. And a committee of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers gave the state party $30,000.

The unions want like-minded candidates, said Dana Cope, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, which affiliated with the Service Employees International Union in May.

“We want the political establishment in North Carolina to realize that we are a very large political player,” Cope said. “This is something that's going to be sustained.”