Citizens United also permitted unlimited spending by labor unions. Has that happened?
Organized labor does a lot of political spending. But Citizens United was not greeted with warnings that it would release a flood of union money because organized labor is so much weaker than it once was.
Union membership was still rising, if only fitfully, in the 1970s, but it has steadily declined since 1980. From 1980 to 2010, the number of people in the labor force increased by more than 40 percent while the number of union members decreased by more than 25 percent. Union funds are made up of member dues, so shrinking membership means fewer dollars available for the kinds of expenditures the Supreme Court legalized.23
Another big difference between unions and corporations, whether business for-profits or tax-exempt nonprofits, is that unions have to spend a lot of their money just to protect their existence. The
Republican Party has always been hostile to organized labor, and that hostility appears to have grown stronger as labor grows weaker. The Republican assault on public-sector unions in Wisconsin, for example, is almost without precedent. It was conducted not only by the national and state GOP, but also by an array of non-party organizations such as the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, Tea Party groups, and Glenn Beck's 9-12 Project.24
Organized labor is still the biggest and best-organized part of the Democratic coalition. Unions have been the most loyal member of the party's constantly shifting financial constituency, and they provide a reliable source of manpower and votes during election campaigns. But the Democrats have done very little to reverse the steady decline of this valuable ally. They can take labor for granted because they know it has no place else to go, that it has no choice but to keep supporting Democratic candidates and policies. Unions will continue to be a vital part of the Democratic coalition even as they get weaker, but Citizens United did nothing to make them stronger.25