Skip to comments.Boss Behind the Scenes: Lee Saunders and AFSCME Lead Union Campaign Funding for Democrats
Posted on 09/23/2012 5:50:05 AM PDT by Fedora
The tyrant, the bully, the corrupter and the corrupted are figures of shame. The labor leaders who became thieves, who cheated those whose trust they had accepted, brought dishonor on a vital and largely honest labor movement. . .Neither the labor movement nor our economic system can stand this paralyzing corruption. . .
--Robert F. Kennedy, The Enemy Within, 1960
Acting out the thug's reply to free speech, AFSCME President Lee Saunders slapped a chair representing Clint Eastwood off the stage while rallying the Wisconsin delegation to the Democratic National Convention, shouting "Dirty Harry, make my day!" (A video is online here.) Saunders' violent theatrics, more reminiscent of a pro wrestling match than a speech by a public official, cast a revealing spotlight on the forces behind the Democratic Party's biggest union supporter. After the online PAC ActBlue, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is the largest donor to Democratic candidates in recent years, expected to contribute more than $100 million to the 2012 campaign. In light of this, it might be worth taking a closer look at Lee Saunders, the new boss behind the scenes at the AFSCME.
Saunders Meets McEntee
Saunders grew up in Cleveland, where his father was active in the Amalgamated Transit Union and his mother worked with the American Association of University Professors. He began his own union career after earning an M.A. from Ohio State University in 1974, taking a job with the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services and joining the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association. He joined the AFSCME as a labor economist in 1978.
Saunders worked his way up through the ranks to become Executive Assistant to AFSCME Gerald McEntee, who ran the union from 1981 to 2012. In late 1998 McEntee promoted Saunders to administrate the largest AFSCME council, New York City's District Council 37 (DC 37), consisting of 56 member locals. At the time DC 37 had become embroiled in a series of corruption scandals, along with McEntee himself.
McEntee began his career with the AFSCME in Philadelphia in 1958 organizing for his father, an AFSCME official. After rising to prominence in the Pennsylvania AFSCME, he used his position to spearhead the return of the AFL-CIO to the CIO's radical roots, which dated back to the Comintern's Popular Front strategy of the 1930s. The Cold War had pushed many Communist elements out of the AFL-CIO, but McEntee led a movement to reverse this trend.
Following his participation in a 1986 convention of the left-wing Congressional lobby the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), McEntee joined a DSA campaign to remodel America's health care system after Canada's. He supported the Democratic Socialists of America Health Care Speakers Tour of 1991.
McEntee forged the AFSCME's relationship with Bill Clinton ahead of the 1992 New Hampshire primary, making the AFSCME the first union to support Clinton. Under McEntee's leadership, the AFSCME lent early support to Clinton's health care efforts.
McEntee followed up by co-founding the Campaign for America's future, a strategy center for the progressive movement. Meanwhile he organized $35 million in AFL-CIO support for the Democrats' 1996 campaign, funded by increased taxes on AFL-CIO members. After the election, Clinton appointed McEntee to head an Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry.
Subsequently, McEntee's name emerged in an investigation of illegal efforts by the AFL-CIO and the Clinton-Gore campaign to funnel money towards helping Teamsters President Ron Carey defeat 1996 union election rival James P. Hoffa, son of Jimmy Hoffa. McEntee testified to federal investigators that he raised $20,000 in cash for Carey from the owners of Kelly Press, a company that did printing work for the AFSCME and was co-owned by McEntee's personal friend Paul Kelly. This was improper because it was unreported and because it came from employers, barred from contributing under Teamsters rules.
The episode was one of a series of union-related scandals to emerge after the 1996 campaign. In October 1997, the AFSCME's DC 37 entered into the picture, coming under investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau for a range of charges that surfaced to public attention a year later. Charges came to include vote rigging, kickbacks, embezzlement and theft to fund extravagant expenses by union leaders, use of union funds to pay for male prostitutes, and collusion with organized crime figures from the Gambino and Colombo families in fraud, bid-rigging, and extortion. More than 20 officials were eventually convicted on various charges, with two council presidents found guilty of embezzling over $1 million. Schemes included setting up a fake leukemia foundation to funnel money to aspiring Colombo family boss William Cutolo, who in turn spent thousands in union money buying tables for foundation dinners honoring top union officials, including McEntee.
Investigators also discovered that since McEntee's ascent from the Pennsylvania AFSCME to leadership in the national union in 1981, the AFSCME had been awarding contracts to National Prescription Administrators (NPA), a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company that had been doing business with McEntee's Pennsylvania council, AFSCME DC13. NP owner Richard Ullman put McEntee's ex-wife Janet and daughter Christine Serenelli on the payroll of their Philadelphia office. Meanwhile in New York, NPA beat out other bidders in 1987 to secure a contract with DC 37, worth an estimated $125 million a year by the time the contract came up for renewal in 2001.
McEntee Appoints Saunders to Handle Damage Control
By late November 1998, DC 37's corruption investigation had come to public attention, and council leaders Charles Hughes and Stanley Hill had been forced to resign. McEntee appointed Saunders as trustee of DC 37 to manage the problem.
Saunders hired the KPMG Peat Marwick firm to audit the activities of DC 37 and its 56 member locals from 1995 to 1998. The audit uncovered even deeper corruption than official prosecutors had pursued. Saunders addressed this by instituting a number of changes, such as installing financial reporting and auditing systems, establishing a third party to count ballots in the council's elections and ratification votes, and naming an ethical-practices officer union whistleblowers could contact.
However, reformers charged that Saunders left the root of the problem in place by retaining a corrupt election process and old guard. He resisted rule changes that would have shifted voting power to union members or changed the size and structure of DC 37. He also initially bypassed appointing reform critics of Stanley Hill, such as Mark Rosenthal and Ray Markey.
While Saunders was managing DC 37's mess, McEntee continued to associate with Bill Clinton and join Al Gore on campaign stops during the 2000 election. In 2001 NPA won a bid to renew its DC 37 contract, and won an additional bid for a lucrative PBA Retiree Fund contract.
On February 6, 2002, pharmacy benefit management (PBM) giant Express Scripts announced that it was acquiring NPA for $515 million. Three weeks later, on February 26, Saunders declared that DC 37 had been cleaned up and ended his trusteeship. He made the announcement during a meeting which saw the election of new DC 37 executive director Lillian Roberts, former assistant to DC 37 president Victor Gotbaum, who had also been implicated in the scandal surrounding the council.
In April 2002, the pivotal figure in securing NPA's DC 37 and PBA contracts, longtime DC 37 benefit fund administrator Roslyn Yasser, was forced to step down. Three weeks later Roberts announced she was ordering an audit of the fund, a move supported by newly-elected council treasurer Mark Rosenthal. the following January, Rosenthal reported that the audit was never performed.
Saunders Succeeds McEntee
Following his management of the DC 37 scandal, Saunders continued to rise in the AFSCME hierarchy, eventually succeeding McEntee. He was elected Secretary-Treasurer in 2010 and President in 2012, each time defeating Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000 President Danny Donohue. Donohue argued that Saunders was a McEntee clone and a Democratic Party cog. Other critics have charged that Saunders won the AFSCME presidency through tactics such as using trusteeships to control delegate elections and abusing the union's judicial levers to squelch the opposition.
Meanwhile, AFSCME, which had supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 campaign, officially threw its support behind the Obama campaign in December 2011, announcing plans to raise over $100 million for the Democrats in the 2012 election. On August 1, 2012, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka--who had pleaded the Fifth during union corruption investigations under the Clinton administration--named Saunders as chair of the AFL-CIO Political Action Committee to lead the labor' movement's effort to re-elect President Obama.
Under Saunders' leadership, the AFSCME's organizing effort is now being directed by the union's new national political director Brian Weeks, who replaces retiring director Larry Scanlon. Weeks began his political career as a coordinator for Wisconsin Democratic Congressman Les Aspin. He joined the AFSCME in 2002 as its Wisconsin political and legislative director and rose to the union's assistant political director. He helped run the Democratic National Committee's political operation in Wisconsin during the 2004 election. Weeks and Saunders took a leading role in the campaign to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in the months prior to Saunders' election to the AFSCME presidency.
Saunders' frustration over his failure in the Walker recall effort was evident in his attack on the empty Eastwood chair. Prior to Saunders' outburst, his voice mounted in rage when mentioning Congressman Paul Ryan's name to the Wisconsin delegation he was addressing. Saunders and the AFSCME have a loss to avenge. But unfortunately for frustrated tyrants, real voters aren't as easy to push around as empty chairs.
Ping—I linked to a post you did on the chair incident mentioned.
Excellent job! You do good work.
Obviously , Eastwood’s “empty chair” symbolism at the Republican convention hit home and is even being repeated by the DNC / unions.
The Unions KNOW that the Democrats will continue to channel taxpayer money to states, cities, and counties, in order to keep Union Members whole, and getting raises, in exchange for that tax money paying the Dues to the Unions, which is re-routed to the DNC. Money-Laundering and we can count on Holder to prosecute it for SURE! /sarc
I really think it’s important for us to abandon the “empty chair” metaphor.
If Obama were just a vacationing aristocrat, we would be ok. It’s when he works that things go wrong.
He’s not an empty chair. He’s a dangerous marxist, who is destroying the country. He is the most dangerous threat we face.
Certainly not an empty chair.
Thank you, this is fantastic research and writing!!!
Bookmarked to use as a continual resource....
The Weather Underground (Bill Ayers*, Bernardine Dohrn) was a sub-set of the SDS.
*Just some guy in Bozo’s neighborhood.
Thanks, Elle Bee, those are some important details and references! That fits in with that SDA cofounder Michael Harrington’s SDS background.
I'm not sure how to search back that far but it's all there/here posted contemporaneously
They needed a cash cow for their social engineering and unions are perfect You'll find John Sweeney in NY's DC37 and dennis Rivera from 1199 ... it's ugly
Thank you, Madame!
Thanks for the bump!
Thanks, Tamzee! There are a few parts of it I want to follow up on researching myself. I think it’s important to delve into how some of these individuals and events interesected with the Clintons as well as Obama.