Independent expenditures help both sides in the 5th district

They may be the biggest spenders, but the American Action Network, which has been flooding the 5th Congressional District with ads attacking Democratic incumbent Chris Murphy, isn’t the only outside player in the close race.

Officials from local labor unions say they are spending thousands of dollars to send out flyers, make phone calls and go door-to-door to support Murphy’s bid for a third term.

“We are reminding our members how important this election is and encouraging them to go vote,” said John W. Olsen, president of Connecticut AFL-CIO, which has an estimated 35,000 union members in the fifth district. “If they show up to vote they are most likely voting for our recommended candidates.”

But whatever local unions have spent on campaign literature to send their members, Olsen said, isn’t close to the $900,000 the American Action Network has put up to air two commercials against Murphy, who is facing a challenge from Republican state Sen. Sam Caligiuri, R-Waterbury.

“There is no way we could have spent that much,” Olsen said, although he said he’s not sure how much organized labor has committed to the race.

Nationwide, Democrats have complained that outside groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are giving Republicans a huge cash advantage this year, but a report in the Wall Street Journal last week has the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSME) as the top political spender, with $87 million. The U.S. Chamber is next with $75 million.

State labor organizations have chosen not to use their money for television commercials in the 5th district. Instead, they have largely focused on their “get out the vote” campaign, which consists of making thousands of phone calls and sending hundreds of thousands of mailings.

“All we can do is reach out to our members. They tend to be very engaged with the issues affecting their work,” said Larry Dorman, a union representative for AFSME Local 4 in New Britain. “I think that will offset the slimy ads that have been airing against Congressman Murphy.”

But Republican State Party Chairman Chris Healy said Democrats and the unions are also guilty of negative campaigning.

“You are seeing a lot of harsh independent mailings against Sam. I don’t think it will be successful,” he said. “They use things like ‘he can’t be trusted’ or phony Social Security claims.”

Caligiuri said independent organizations have involved themselves on both sides of the aisle in the race.

“Third parties are playing a role. That check is cut both ways,” Caligiuri said, noting the Murphy benefited from of campaigning last election cycle and organized labor and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s $275,000 for this race this time around.

Most recently, the International Association of Machinists came out publicly for Murphy and against Caligiuri, saying the Republican has not done enough to prevent closing of the Pratt & Whitney plant in Cheshire when IAM’s contract with the company expires later this year.  The union says 1,000 jobs could be lost if the plant closes

“We are dismayed by his position on things that directly affect us,” union president Wayne McCarthy said at a press conference Friday.

Machinist Tony Whelan echoed that sentiment.

“Where is Sam? We have yet to hear what you will do to save our jobs,” he said, noting Murphy’s support of legislation that would require defense contracts to be issued to domestic companies, like Pratt.

Murphy said he thinks the support of organized labor could be key in what is expected to be a close race. A poll released Friday by Merriman River Group for CT Capitol Report has Caligiuri ahead by 1.4 percentage points.

“I am counting on those (union) votes,” Murhpy said.