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Unions shift political might to state, local races
Labor clout » Leaders are worried about laws that reduce their influence.

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Brandon Davis, SEIU’s political director, downplayed the notion that his union is not spending as much money on the presidential and congressional races. He said the union is being more strategic about how it spends money, focusing on state legislative districts that overlap with key congressional districts and urging voters not to forget about state and local races.

"We simply cannot stop at the top," Davis said.

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Unions are being forced to play defense even in the usually labor-friendly confines of California, where they are fighting a ballot proposition that would prohibit unions from using payroll deductions to collect funds for political purposes. That would starve unions of the tens of millions of dollars they use to finance campaigns and political organizing. Californians rejected similar measures in 2005 and 1998.

In Michigan, unions are going on offense with a ballot measure that would include collective bargaining rights in the state constitution. The measure would prevent future Wisconsin-style measures restricting bargaining rights, but opponents say it would hinder state and local lawmakers who want to control their budgets.

A union-backed group has spent about $6.5 million on TV ads supporting the measure, according to a nonprofit called the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Two opposition groups with business support have spent roughly the same amount.

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