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The Big Betrayal

Democratic Lobbyists Key to Fight Against Employee Free Choice Act

by CHRIS KROMM

If you missed, Tom Frank had a provocative column in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about the likely demise of the Employee Free Choice Act — the bill that labor has made its #1 priority for the new era of Obama and Democratic politics.

First, it’s important to note the EFCA isn’t dead yet. Labor has vowed it will keep fighting, and as Roll Call reports they were in full force during the recent Congressional recess:

Union organizers held more than 400 grass-roots events, sent more than 27,000 letters to Members of Congress and put in nearly 100,000 calls supporting EFCA. Additionally, the unions spent more than $1 million on two TV ads over the recess, AFL-CIO spokeswoman Amaya Smith said.

But after the defections of key Senators like Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln — and even pro-labor stalwarts like Ohio’s Sherrod Brown (D) predicting it will be watered down — Frank observes that the EFCA as we know it won’t pass:

After massive lobbying both by labor and by business, it appears that the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which, as it now stands, would allow workers to organize in many cases merely by signing cards instead of holding elections, will not have the 60 votes required to get past a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

Even Andy Stern of the Change to Win labor federation is signaling compromise is on the horizon given the math.

But it’s important to step back a moment and ask how, after the rush of hope that surrounded the victory of Obama and Congressional Democrats — backed by millions in labor contributions — did we get to this point?

Many have pointed to the well-financed corporate opposition to the act — a war chest which, among other things, has been used to fund dubious research warning that the labor bill would cost "thousands of jobs."

But Frank points to an important and under-reported piece of the story — lobbying firms with strong ties to Democrats who are helping deep-six labor’s agenda. After asking why Democrats seem treat labor like an ATM machine for campaign cash, only to turn their backs on them in Congress, Frank offers these devastating set of facts:

[M]aybe it’s just the money. Consider the lineup of lobbyists that retail giant Wal-Mart has assembled to make its case against EFCA. According to lobbying disclosure forms filed with the House and Senate we find that Wal-Mart’s lobbyists include Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti (which employs former presidential candidate John Kerry’s liaison to Congress during the 2004 campaign), a former legislative director for Rahm Emanuel, and a former assistant to Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

Wal-Mart has also secured, according lobbying disclosure forms filed with Congress, the services of Tony Podesta, of the Podesta Group, one of the hottest lobby shops in Democratic D.C. Mr. Podesta is joined in pushing Wal-Mart’s views on EFCA by a former assistant to Democrat Mark Pryor, the other senator from Arkansas. [FS note: The firm was co-founded with John Podesta, a lead Obama advisor, although he's no longer listed on the group's manifest.]

The real standout on Wal-Mart’s labor-issues roster, though, is D+P Creative Strategies, which wears its liberalism as proudly as last week’s tax protestors did their three-cornered hats. According to its Web site, D+P "highlights partnership, shared benefits, and a commitment to advancing social justice goals." The disclosure form for its Wal-Mart EFCA activities lists a former assistant to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. The bio of its principal, Ingrid Duran, who is also listed as a Wal-Mart lobbyist, declares that the firm’s mission is "to increase the role of corporate, legislative and philanthropic efforts in addressing the concerns of Latinos, women, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) communities."

There’s much more evidence of the ties between these firms to the Democrats. For example, this month the Podesta Group — which proudly boasts [pdf] of its special access in the new Democratic administration — announced the addition of six new principals to their lobbying army. Half have solid Democratic resumes.

The case of the former aide to Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) — Walter Pryor (no relation) — now lobbying against the EFCA for Wal-Mart is especially bizarre. As Wal-Mart Watch pointed out last month, Walter Pryor’s lobbying filing for Wal-Mart lists him as still being an aid to Sen. Pryor — which is impossible, because legislative aides aren’t allowed to lobby.

Melhman & Co. started out as a mostly GOP shop, but ever since 2006 has been cultivating its Democratic Party connections.

Labor has mobilized people and money in unprecedented amounts to get the Employee Free Choice Act passed. But at the end of the day, the money and connections of the corporate opposition — including Democratic lobbyists — may carry the day.

CHRIS KROMM is director the Institute for Southern Studies and publisher of Facing South, where this article originally appeared.