The proposed automaker bailout has a big stamp on it that says "union-built," but the news media hasn't noticed.
Over the past month, accusations have been flying against several Southern senators who oppose a $14 billion bailout for the beleaguered big three automakers and support the the alternative of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. These senators, critics say, are representing the interests of foreign automakers that donate heavily to their campaigns. But what has been largely ignored is the other side of the equation - the influence of the United Auto Workers (UAW) on the members of Congress that voted for the bailout.
According to campaign finance data from the Center for Responsive Politics Web site OpenSecrets.org, when broken down by how members of Congress voted, for the 2008 election cycle the UAW gave more than eight times as much in campaign cash to members that voted for the bailout than those that voted against it -- $1.14 million to proponents versus just $136,500 that voted against it.
Overall, the UAW gave to 176 members of the House and Senate that voted for the bailout and only 22 members that voted against it. The union also gave to 78 candidates that were either unsuccessful in their congressional election bids or those that have yet to be sworn in, for a total of $768,800. The UAW donated $70,500 to nine members that didn't didn't participate in the vote. The union gave over $1.8 million altogether.
As Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., pointed out last week - much of the force behind the push for the bailout can be attributed to the UAW - for fear that Chapter 11 bankruptcy would spell the end of their influence.
"The primary driver behind this is the unions, because bankruptcy allows the auto companies to basically restructure all their contracts in a way that a bankruptcy judge says will make them sustainable," DeMint said. "And if they do that, then essentially the unions lose all their leverage. It's the unions that have brought them to the brink. So definitely, I think the reason they want a political solution and a car czar is because a car czar can protect the unions through this whole process at the expense of the taxpayer."
Despite this data showing the UAW has overwhelmingly gave to bailout proponents versus its opponents, the media have largely ignored the union and has attacked bailout opponets for representing the interests of foreign automakers with manufacturing facilities in the United States.
In his Dec. 15 New York Times column in which he compared bailout opponents to those in Europe against a rescue plan for the E.U., Paul Krugman resorted to name-calling.
"But there's a problem: conservative politicians, clinging to an out-of-date ideology - and, perhaps, betting (wrongly) that their constituents are relatively well positioned to ride out the storm - are standing in the way of action," Krugman wrote. "No, I'm not talking about Bob Corker, the Senator from Nissan - I mean Tennessee - and his fellow Republicans, who torpedoed last week's attempt to buy some time for the U.S. auto industry. (Why was the plan blocked? An e-mail message circulated among Senate Republicans declared that denying the auto industry a loan was an opportunity for Republicans to ‘take their first shot against organized labor.')"
And CNBC's Jim Cramer took as similar shot at Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee and a staunch opponent of the automaker bailout. His "Stop Trading" segment on CNBC's Dec. 4 "Street Signs" followed a segment in which Shelby was interviewed by host Erin Burnett.
"I'm following the Senator from Toyota - oh I meant Alabama," Cramer said.
Shelby told The Wall Street Journal on Dec. 12 that if he had five GM or Ford plants in his state, he would have still opposed the bailout and noted his opposition to the 1979 Chrysler bailout as a member of the House of Representatives.
"He opposes all these bailouts because he doesn't think the taxpayers should be paying for it," Jonathan Graffeo, a press representative for Shelby, said to the Business & Media Institute. "It is genuine and it's simple. I'm around the guy 10 hours a day - I know."