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December 28, 2007 10:58 AM

E-mail raises questions about union effort for Edwards

Posted by David Postman

The head of one of the state's most powerful political unions is in the middle of a presidential campaign controversy. David Rolf, president of S.E.I.U. Local 775 sent an e-mail to fellow union leaders about how best to help Democrat John Edwards' campaign. As the New York Times reported yesterday, the effort was supposed to be independent of the campaign.

But the Edwards campaign may have expected the support of the group, Alliance for a New America, set up by a local of the Service Employees International Union. An Oct. 8 e-mail message circulated among the union leaders who created the group suggests that they were talking with Edwards campaign officials about "what specific kinds of support they would like to see from us" just as they were planning to create an outside group to advertise in early primary states with "a serious 527 legal structure."

You can read a PDF of Rolf's e-mail here. The NY Times reported:

The message discusses plans to swing as many SEIU locals as possible "into a pro-Edwards position" and to coordinate public endorsements with the Edwards campaign. The organizers "to discuss with the Edwards campaign what specific sort of support they would like to see from us" and list specific meetings scheduled between union leaders and campaign officials like David Bonior, the national campaign manager.

The paper said that Rolf was traveling and unavailable for comment. I'm checking with SEIU to see if I can reach Rolf today.

MORE: The national SEIU has not endorsed a presidential candidate this year. But a group of its locals announced its support for Edwards in October. The Iowa local was the big news that day, though Edwards was certainly buoyed by backing from all 10 SEIU locals involved in the announcement.

Dave Regan, president of a pro-Edwards local covering workers in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, issued a statement today responding to the New York Times story. He said, in part:

There has been no coordination or discussion of our support for the organization's work with any individual candidate or campaign at any time.

Alliance for a New America is a 527 -- groups named after a section of the IRS code -- and as an independent expenditure group is prohibited by law from coordinating activities with candidates’ campaigns.

I wasn’t able to reach Rolf. But Adam Glickman, a spokesman for SEIU, said there was nothing in Rolf’s e-mail that indicates any sort of improper coordination with the Edwards campaign. He said he has talked with Rolf since the story ran and that Rolf is clear he never talked to the Edwards campaign about 527 activities.
In fact, Glickman says Rolf is not involved in the independent expenditures. He says that SEIU officials, like those in other unions, divide up between those who work on independent expenditures and seal themselves off from the campaigns, and others who remain legally able to talk to candidates and their staffs about allowable coordination.

He said that Alliance for a New America had already been created at the time Rolf sent out his e-mail, and that no SEIU local had yet endorsed the candidate.

“At that point no one is really making any strategic decisions. It was just listing a number of things that are obvious that the union could do for Edwards. That includes things you could coordinate and things you couldn’t coordinate.”

The endorsements came the week after Rolf’s e-mail.

There is more news developing around Alliance for a New America.

  • The New York Times reports on its political blog that campaign watchdog groups are “raising alarms’’ about SEIU’s involvement.
  • The Washington Post blogs about a well-heeled donor to the group.
  • RealClearPolitics looks at connections between Edwards and the group.
  • And ABC News’ Jake Tapper tries to put the Rolf memo in some context.

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