Much has been said about the evil crony capitalism inflicted upon America as a result of PAC, SuperPACs, corporate donations, and just general bribery on behalf of America's corporations in broad terms, and Wall Street in narrow (and Private Equity firms in uber-narrow) terms. But is there an even bigger destabilizing force of "cronyness" in America? According to the WSJ, there well may be: labor unions.
Yes: those same entities that are so critical for Obama's reelection campaign that the president abrogated property rights and overturned the entire bankruptcy process in the case of GM and Chrysler, to benefit various forms of organized labor at the expense of evil, evil bondholders (represented on occasion by such even more evil entities as little old grandmas whose retirement money had been invested in GM bonds), appear to have a far greater impact in bribe-facilitated decision-making than previously thought.
To wit: "Organized labor spends about four times as much on politics and lobbying as generally thought, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis, a finding that shines a light on an aspect of labor's political activity that has often been overlooked." Because what labor unions lose in amount of money, they more than make up for in size: "This kind of spending, which is on the rise, has enabled the largest unions to maintain and in some cases increase their clout in Washington and state capitals, even though unionized workers make up a declining share of the workforce. The result is that labor could be a stronger counterweight than commonly realized to "super PACs" that today raise millions from wealthy donors, in many cases to support Republican candidates and causes." Which of course is to be expected: because there are two sides to every story, and nature generally keeps a balance (no matter how much central planners try to avoid a mean reversion), and just as two Koch Brothers can spend tens of millions of their agenda, so can tens of millions of unionized workers spend $1 each to further their particular political mission.
Just how big is Union clout? Big.
The usual measure of unions' clout encompasses chiefly what they spend supporting federal candidates through their political-action committees, which are funded with voluntary contributions, and lobbying Washington, which is a cost borne by the unions' own coffers. These kinds of spending, which unions report to the Federal Election Commission and to Congress, totaled $1.1 billion from 2005 through 2011, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The unions' reports to the Labor Department capture an additional $3.3 billion that unions spent over the same period on political activity.
The costs reported to the Labor Department range from polling fees, to money spent persuading union members to vote a certain way, to bratwursts to feed Wisconsin workers protesting at the state capitol last year. Much of this kind of spending comes not from members' contributions to a PAC but directly from unions' dues-funded coffers. There is no requirement that unions report all of this kind of spending to the Federal Election Commission, or FEC.
"We have always known that much of [unions'] influence comes from their political mobilization, but we have never been able to put a number on it," said Bob Biersack, a longtime FEC official who is now with the Center for Responsive Politics. "They are a human force in the political process, but a lot of that falls outside the kind of spending that needs to be disclosed to the FEC."
Laurence E. Gold, counsel to the AFL-CIO, said the Labor Department reports show that "unions by law are the most transparent institutions about their electoral spending."
Apparently not. And not only are unions great at hiding just how much money they spend, they are very good at spending at just the right times:
How does union spending compare to, say, SuperPacs:
Comparisons with corporate political spending aren't easy to make. Some corporate political spending, such as donations to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's political wing, doesn't need to be disclosed. What does have to be disclosed can't be found in a single database or two, as is the case with unions.
Another difference is that companies use their political money differently than unions do, spending a far larger share of it on lobbying, while not undertaking anything equivalent to unions' drives to persuade members to vote as the leadership dictates.
Corporations and their employees also tend to spread their donations fairly evenly between the two major parties, unlike unions, which overwhelmingly assist Democrats. In 2008, Democrats received 55% of the $2 billion contributed by corporate PACs and company employees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Labor unions were responsible for $75 million in political donations, with 92% going to Democrats.
Unlike super PACs, which cannot directly support campaigns, corporate PACs give money from employees to candidates.
So why do Unions spend?
Unions spend millions of dollars yearly paying teams of political hands to contact members, educating them about election issues and trying to make sure they vote for union-endorsed candidates.
Such activities are central to unions' political power: The proportion of members who vote as the leadership prefers has ranged from 68% to 74% over the past decade at AFL-CIO-affiliated unions, according to statistics from the labor federation.
But much of unions' spending on this effort—involving internal communication with members—doesn't have to be reported to the FEC. It does, however, have to be reported to the Labor Department.
The reports to the Labor Department also take in a broader swath of political activity by including spending on campaigns that aren't federal, such as for state legislatures and governors.
The Labor Department data show about 3,000 local unions, their national parents and labor federations reporting at least some spending on politics and lobbying each year since 2005. Just 35 unions accounted for more than half of it, according to the Journal's analysis.
Wonder why Government Motors happened? Here's why
Among the unions and labor federations, the five largest now devote greater portions of their budgets to politics and elections than they did in 2005, when the Labor Department first began tracking such spending. Politics and lobbying accounted for 13% of their total spending during the 2005-2006 election season. By the 2009-2010 cycle, this had risen to 16%.
The bottom line is that just as corporate spending relies on one centralized source of cash, so, on the other side of the spectrum, we have decentralized "bribing" by a very unlikely source. But bribing nonetheless. Which is actually the whole point: money is money, and it is fungible, and as we pointed out previously, the IRR for bribing a politician is the highest of any possible investment. Whether this money comes from corporations, or unions, is irrelevant. But ist most certainly comes from both.
And this finding is something that all those who decry corporatism as the only source of crony capitalism in America will certainly have to get comfortable with.
Presenting The Greatest ROI Opportunity Ever
The dream of virtually anyone who has ever traded even one share of stock has always been to generate above market returns, also known as alpha, preferably in a long-term horizon. Why? Because those who manage to return 30%, 20% even 10% above the S&P over the long run, become, all else equal (expert networks and collocated flow-frontrunning HFT boxes aside), legendary investors in the eyes of the general public, which brings the ancillary benefits of fame and fortune (usually in the form of 2 and 20). This is the ultimate goal of everyone who works on Wall Street. Yet, ironically, what most don't realize, is that these returns, or Returns On Investment (ROI), are absolutely meaningless when put side by side next to something few think about when considering investment returns.
Because it is the ROIs for various forms of lobbying the put the compounded long-term returns of the market to absolute shame. As the following infographic demonstrates, ROIs on various lobbying efforts range from a whopping 5,900% (oil subsidies) to a gargantuan 77,500% (pharmaceuticals).
How are these mingboggling returns possible? Simple - because they appeal to the weakest link: the most corrupt, bribable, and infinitely greedy unit of modern society known as 'the politician'.
Yet who benefits from these tremendous arbitrage opportunities? Not you and I, that is for certain.
No - it is the faceless corporations - the IBM Stellar Sphere, the Microsoft Galaxy, Planet Starbucks - which are truly in the control nexus of modern society, and which, precisely courtesy of these lobbying "efforts", in which modest investments generate fantastic returns allowing the status quo to further entrench itself, take advantage of this biggest weakness of modern "developed" society to make the rich much richer (a/k/a that increasingly thinner sliver of society known as investors), who are the sole beneficiaries of this "Amazing ROI" - the stock market is merely one grand (and lately broken, and very much manipulated) distraction, to give everyone the impression the playing field is level.