SEIU makes a massive donation to Kroger

Writing in the Oregonian, columnist David Sarasohn takes note of the massive $312,500 donation that SEIU has made to attorney general candidate John Kroger.

As The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes reported this week on his blog, "Mapes on Politics," the Service Employees International Union just came up with another $162,500 for John Kroger's campaign for attorney general. Together with earlier contributions, not counting a few in-kind efforts not worth mentioning between friends, that brings the SEIU's total contribution to Kroger's Democratic primary campaign to $312,500, a number never before seen in Oregon subgubernatorial territory.

Even Kevin Mannix's ever-cheerful checkbook, Loren Parks, came up with only $175,000 when Mannix ran for attorney general in 2000.

SEIU's donations to Kroger dwarf that and amount to almost half of what the Kroger campaign has brought in so far.

Why has SEIU bet so big on Kroger?

"As far we're concerned, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said [Edward Hershey, communications director of SEIU Local 503]. "You're dealing with a candidate of extraordinary abilities in a race that has to be conducted on the airwaves."

So it's not, as some people might think, three large bills of retribution against the other candidate in the race, state Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego, who in his first term piloted an overhaul of the Public Employees Retirement System -- then $17 billion in the hole -- that SEIU objected to vociferously?

"If you're asking me, is Greg Macpherson our favorite candidate from the get-go, I'd have to say no," said Hershey. "This money comes from our members. A lot of these people felt very hurt, felt that the PERS activity really affected their lives in terms of when they could retire and with how much."

So you could see how somebody might think that the $312,500 to Kroger was the equivalent of a horse's head planted in Macpherson's bed. Even in 2006, when the SEIU supported a primary challenge to Gov. Ted Kulongoski, another backer of the overhaul, the union was in for only $90,000.

But, insists Hershey, the SEIU's problems with Macpherson are not the major point.

"I can tell you with as straight a face as possible," he explains, "that Kroger has the capacity to be an outstanding attorney general."


  • OnTheFence (unverified)

    I'm a Kroger fan and I voted for him. This story would not have changed my mind about my vote but it does still leave a bad feeling inside me (not about Kroger) but just about the process and SEIU.

    Why aren't more folks upset about this money? Is it fair to call SEIU a bully?

  • Brienne (unverified)

    Take note of the line, "This money comes from our members." I am an AFT union member (American Federation of Teachers), and I strongly support giving money to my union's political action committee. Unions acquire donations from members and they then distribute those funds to the causes/candidates they support. What the SEIU donation says to me is that they (and their members) strongly feel Kroger is the best choice. Rightly so, in my opinion. The SEIU is giving money just like the DCCC and DSCC will give to their nominated candidates. It's not bullying, and no, it's not fair to say it is.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Recent PERS "reform" is similar in character to earlier "reform" of Oregon's workers compensation system:

    • There was a fiscal problem.

    • The problem was solved by screwing workers.

    • Both efforts were guided by Democrats.

  • JHL (unverified)

    I don't mind that SEIU is giving this money to Kroger...

    But I (and I think a lot of other Democrats) will be flippin' livid if October rolls around and the progressive well runs dry. What's SEIU going to say then -- that they don't have any money to spend against Republicans because the lion's share was spent against Democrats?

    I'd like to know how the membership feels about that prospect.

  • James (unverified)

    These donations are nothing more than SEIU trying to buy themselves an election and scare any future elected official into doing exactly as they want. It is BECAUSE of this donation that I'm voting for Macpherson.

    If John Kroger wins this election he will owe everything he has to SEIU and OEA. Unions should not dominate every agenda in this state.

  • chris (unverified)

    I totally agree with James. I mean the audacity of working people in this state to think that they should be able to combine their resources and actually have a strong voice in the democratic process (not as strong as corporations, of course), but STILL! They should just take whatever is dished out to them like good little worker bees and not try to get involved in things that are probably of no concern to them, like politics...sheesh!

  • Robert Harris (unverified)

    JHL is right that this probably isn't the best use of funds to further a progressive agenda. But hey, is it a surprise that the SEIU's only agenda is the welfare of its members, not some general progressive agenda for Oregonians.

    The contribution doesn't bother me. The only one thing bothers me, and only a little, about this is that the SEIU is pretending that this is about anything other than payback and striking fear into pols.

    Please Mr. Hershey, just don't insult our intelligence.

  • (Show?)

    This is the most disgusting of all the elections in this primary for me.

    Unlike Tom, I feel that having rigged the guaranteed percentage return, the unions and the alleged watchdogs created a situation unique in the history of pensions, private, public or otherwise. Every single person ivolved in the initial decision should have been banned from the capitol for life. It was rotten, unethical, unsustainable and would have bankrupted the state.

    Somebody had to fix the mess and Greg was the guy. He knew damned well that the largest intellectual base in the state would immediately start beahving like a bunch of three year olds, kicking and screaming and vowing eternal payback.

    They did, and there is no amount of money too large at this point to punish the guy that had the sand to do what every one of them knew was the right thing.


    Then MacPherson starts running totally weird negative ads against Kroeger that were as contet free as any I've ever seen. There was no punchline, most probably because Kroeger has led an exemplary life. The weird part is that Mac didn't even make anything up or blow anything out of proportion; He just attacked on no apparent grounds whatsoever.


    So-o-o-o-o IMO the SEIU et. al. get an "F" for intellectual honesty and Mac gets an "F" for these lame attacks. Kroeger as an individual seems to be the only onw with clean skirts here.

  • Kroger is a DLC mole (unverified)

    Of course it's political payback from SEIU.

    There is ABSOLUTELY zero other reason why a progressive labor union would support a candidate whose sum total political experience is being the most committed DLC'er in the Clinton operation -- a guy whose job was to shut out and say no to organizations like... SEIU.

    From a column by Bruce Reed, president of the DLC, in the Washington Monthly:

    John Kroger spent a year as the campaign's deputy policy director and most persistent New Democrat, in charge of saying no whenever interest groups demanded promises Clinton couldn't keep.

    And if you think that's history, DLC President Bruce Reed donated $500 to Kroger's campaign.

  • (Show?)

    Somebody had to fix the mess and Greg was the guy. He knew damned well that the largest intellectual base in the state would immediately start behaving like a bunch of three year olds, kicking and screaming and vowing eternal payback.

    They did, and there is no amount of money too large at this point to punish the guy that had the sand to do what every one of them knew was the right thing.

    This kind of thing is precisely the reason why so many "progressive" groups oppose campaign contribution limits. The $350,000 that SEIU is putting into this race is not just intended to elect Kroger. It is intended to send a message to every Democratic candidate in the state who has aspirations for higher office about what will happen if you step too far out of line.

    You can take it to the bank that what has happened to MacPherson in this primary will have a chiling effect on legislators in the 2009 session.

    And, for what it's worth, I prefer Kroger to MacPherson for AG, and was deeply disappointed by the snarky, generally negative campaign that Mac chose to run.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)


    I agree that PERS was in a mess, but the folks who lost big in the reforms were different folks from the ones who received more than the system could afford. State government had the responsibility to prevent things getting as screwed up as they were. Instead of preventing the mess, government fixed things by penalizing public workers. It was not a fair resolution.

  • disgusting (unverified)


    Punishing enemies by purchasing elections. Disgusting.

    No wonder SEIU and OEA wanted to kill campaign finance reform.

  • (Show?)

    I get it that PERS was unsustainable. But that situation was the product of bargaining, in which the state bargained lower current compensation for higher future compensation. At very least the workers affected should have got pay raises in recognition of the facts of the bargaining and that a contract was being reneged upon.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)

    To Pat Ryan:

    I will concede that PERS had some problems, but you misunderstand their origins. The unions did NOT create those problems. They were born of legislative efforts during a period of fiscal shortfall back in the Vic Atiyeh and Bob Straub eras. The "guaranteed return", of which you write, was Bob Straub's solution to what HE saw as state treasurer of a very poorly managed fund that left retirees nearly destitute when they retired. The amount of the guarantee was set by the actuaries to keep the amount contributed by the EMPLOYERS predictible every two years. The guarantee started out at 5% and rose to 8% by 1989. In 1981, the legislature added the formula retirement methods and in their efforts to race out of Salem after a long session, they "forgot" to eliminate money match. Money match did not become a problem until starting with 1994. After that period of time, the IRS wouldn't have let them eliminate the key structures of the plan without making the workers completely whole.

    The 2003 reforms could have been accomplished much more painlessly and with union cooperation. But Macpherson, Kulongoski, and Tim Knopp (R) decided to "go for broke" and try to modify PERS more than the law would allow -- as the Supreme Court demonstrated in its Strunk ruling in 2005. The problem is that the Macpherson, Kulongoski reformed PERS Board negotiated a "settlement agreement" with the employers (without consulting or involving the unions) in 2004 that ended up trumping the Supreme Court and putting into effect a poison pill for the retirees and active members that undermined the Supreme Court. And Macpherson and Kulongoski have refused to speak out against the PERS Board and against the employers for this underhanded game they played.

    Ironically, the stock market erased ALL the losses generated by money match that led up to the 2003 reforms. PERS has a $1.5 billion surplus right now, and the reforms have contributed less than a third of that.

    What we have is 300,000 very pissed off union members, unrepresented members, and retirees. I don't know one who would vote for Macpherson. They didn't have much choice in the 2006 gubernatorial election (Kulo vs Saxton isn't a real choice for PERS members), any more than a Macpherson/Saxton matchup for AG. I'd be willing to bet that if Mac wins the primary and Saxton is a write-in Republican candidate who makes it to the November ballot, Saxton will win because most PERS members I know will sit that race out.

    I think progressives need to HOPE Kroger wins the primary because otherwise Oregon will end up with potentially the most anti-progressive AG in recent memory.

  • ben rivers (unverified)

    the most anti-progressive AG in recent memory.


    I understand you are angry at Greg about his work on PERS, but to call him anti-progressive is out of line. Take off your PERS blinders for a second and look at the body of Greg's work. Progress on the environment, progress on civil rights. The votes are there. As for Kroger, we don't know what his "record of progress" is. He supports the death penalty and mandatory minimums. Not very progressive in my eyes.

    I have to agree, that SEIU is sending a pretty strong message to current and new legislators: "Don't cross us, or we will run you out of town." I don't care that Kroger accepted this money. I care that SEIU is buying this election. It is hurtful to the process.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)

    To Ben Rivers:

    You misinterpret what I said. I was referring to Ron Saxton as the "most anti-progressive AG in recent memory". If Mac gets the nomination, PERS members and retirees will simply sit out the AG race. If 300,000 PERS members and retirees decide not to vote in that race, Saxton could easily win since a significant percentage of PERS members/retirees would normally vote "D". If SEIU and OEA both refuse to endorse Mac and don't give him any money, who will come up with the cash to run a credible campaign against Saxton.

    As for SEIU sending a message, indeed they are. And why shouldn't they. Macpherson's actions cost retirees alone about $800,000,000. To put that in perspective, my cumulative hit from Mac's actions (and the PERB/Employer "settlement") totals about $45,000 so far and I've only been retired for 4 years. Don't you think we have every right to be pissed? We received documentation from PERS on the day we retired (retired, not applied for retirement) that our benefits would be xxx. To change that retroactively, as was done to all of us, is quite unprogressive. No one would have had any problems with prospective changes; they are perfectly legal. But Mac's actions have cost taxpayers about $25,000,000 in legal fees so far and there are still 6 court cases pending final adjudiction. Moreover, if the preliminary rulings hold up, the legal bills will be significantly higher and PERS will be obligated to repay the "stolen" funds with interest. And you want THIS guy for AG. His predecessor, current AG Hardy Myers, WARNED the gov, the legislature, and Mac specifically that everything the SC ruled illegal would be ruled illegal. They ignored Hardy and look what has happened so far. His legal/legislative acumen is hardly meritorious in my opinion. Even if I weren't directly and significantly affected by legislation Mac sponsored and authored, I'd be questioning his legal skills.

    I don't feel bad at all about SEIU's money going to Kroger. He deserves it. And I haven't been a union member since 1982.

  • Evan W (unverified)

    Ben Rivers, I do believe that mrfearless was referring to Saxton as potentially the "most unprogressive AG in recent memory." Just read carefully and don't jump right into your "gmac has a legislative record" mode. And seriously, gmac said that he would not try to get changes in Measure 11 without the consent of the DOJ attorneys. Kroger is advocating reform for juveniles and in other areas. Also, i am pretty sure that the death penalty issue is a red herring in this race, which gmac's folks try to bring up to enflame the passions of liberals. I do not think the personal views of the AG, at least with regards to the death penalty, will have any impact upon the DA's or DOJ criminal division's decisions.

  • ben rivers (unverified)

    Thanks for clarifying mrfearless. I agree, Saxton would be the most anti-progressive AG. I think we are safe enough to say that whoever wins this D primary will be our next AG.

    Evan. I will go to the grave believing that a person running with no record can say whatever the voters want to hear and make them want to vote for him or her. At least I can look at what Greg has done and see what he is capable of. This is all about Oregon and being a statewide official in Oregon. Not about where he is from, where he has been. It is about what has he done as a resident of this state to make him a credible choice to be Attorney General. I have a right to expect this from my statewide elected officials. John Kroger's legal record and teaching record is quite impressive, I don't doubt that. But I fail to see what he has done in Oregon besides volunteer and teach at a private law school. And before you talk about Enron, this will be a forever disputable issue, if his work in Oregon is considered practicing law.

    All I am saying is I want someone in a statewide position who can show me what they have done for the state. If Kroger was running for city council, state house, district attorney, I would vote for him in a second. The great thing about this country is that we can agree to disagree. I happen to disagree that the DOJ needs a shake'em up change agent. This is less about Kroger and more about my vision of statewide elected officials.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)


    "All I am saying is I want someone in a statewide position who can show me what they have done for the state."

    So, are you disputing my points about Mac's "contribution" to the state and his legal acumen? Do you think that by completing dismissing the current AG's advice about the unconstitutionality and illegality of what HB 2003 (in particular) would do, is something to be impressed by. Hardy was dead right. GMac was dead wrong, and that bull-headedness has cost the state an unnecessary $25,000,000, has the potential of costing $800,000,000 more plus interest, and has been responsible for a massive wave of litigation against the state, most of which the state has already lost. This is a legal "bright bulb". Sorry. It does not compute for me.


  • John English (unverified)

    I thought SEIU's big $ to Kelly Wirth was bad. Kroger is better than Wirth, but AG has little to do with SEIU's issues, unlike legisative races, U.S. congress, or Gov. Why doesn't SEIU use this money to help elect Ahern and Stigler in Eastern OR, or Fosberg and Kahl down here to get a pro-revenue majority? The problem is that various ballot measures in the last 20 years make it hard to fund PERS as well as other services. Greg simply faced the reality and helped save PERS. I am in PERS and am gald he did. It is too bad that SEIU's leaders and many members are too stupid and stubborn to face reality.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)

    John English:

    It would be very helpful if you would stop repeating the canard that "Greg .... helped save PERS." The reality is that NOTHING Greg did "helped" PERS in any way. What saved PERS has been the stock market. Greg helped the State of Oregon facedown, and lose, many legal battles. All were avoidable had Greg and the Governor LISTENED to the current Attorney General. Greg might have helped PERS better if he had listened to AG Meyers and worked towards legislation that would have accomplished much more and involved virtually no litigation.

    I don't know how anyone can say Greg helped save PERS with a straight face.

  • courage please (unverified)

    I just made up my mind: Macpherson.

    SEIU are cming across as just a massive private interest group, willing to buy elections and punish enemies when that enemy hurts the bottom line.

    We need campaign finance reform, and we need it now. Without it, particularly if/when Kroger wins, every ambitious legislator will be afraid to do anything to cross SEIU, which is bad for democracy and bad for the state.

    SEIU and OEA are appearing to be little more than political bullies. The donation is of course SEIU's right, and that's the problem. There's nothing progressive about it. I hope voters, bloggers, the press, and elected leaders will have the courage to resist.

  • Green Peas (unverified)

    Are you going to also object to the $75 million SEIU will spend in November to elect Obama, Novick/Merkley, Al Franken, and other progressives? Is that being a bully?

    Didn't think so.


  • Jonathan (unverified)

    Courage, you make me laugh. Thank You. Interest groups work to support their interest. For the SEIU, their interest is Union and Labor issues, not the democratic party. It just happens, democrats tend to support their issues and republicans don't. They have no onbligation to support moderate democrats who have not supported labor issues. The SEIU now has an opportunity to keep Greg out of the AGs office and at the same time support a candidate, John, that brings a vision and a plan for Oregon and the AG position. Their problem with Greg also has to do with how Greg handled the PERS reforms, writing legislation that went against Hardy's legal advice, and consumed millions of dollars in legal fees before being overturned. Greg didn't save PERS, Greg just cost state workers millions in legal fees to keep their promised retirement benefit. I also suspect the SEIU hopes to defeat Greg in this race before he seeks a higher office. I think it is pretty apparent that Greg's lack of vision for the AG position is a clear sign he wants the position only as a stepping stone to higher office.

  • Anon (unverified)

    Green Peas: I have no problem with SEIU spending money in November to elect Obama, Merkley/Novick, Al Franken, or other progressives because they will be running against REPUBLICANS.

    The problem here is that Kroger is running against fellow Democrat Macpherson, who ironically IS the more progressive candidate in the race. This fact is proven by Macpherson's legislative record, his death penalty opposition, and his support for Measure 11 reform (while Kroger has no legislative experience, supports the death penalty, and opposes Measure 11 reform). What a waste of big money by SEIU.

    The choice for AG is now even more clear: Macpherson.

  • ms. curious (unverified)

    Does anyone here know what process SEIU uses to decide which candidates to support and fund? I don't, and I'd really like to know.

    I'm asking, in part, because I was recently reviewing the voters' guide with a friend of mine from SEIU staff, and she told me that one candidate had not been considered for endorsement because he hadn't gone to SEIU's candidate event, so therefore "he's not even on our radar," this said with a dismissive wave of hand and turn of page. His policies? His qualifications? I think "not on the radar" kind of sums it up.

    I'm also asking because when I was a member of SEIU 503, basically the organizer would just show up at our local's monthly meeting, ask to have a few minutes on the agenda, and then commandeer a great many more minutes for the purpose of handing out flyers, hectoring us with talking points, and showing us mind-numbing yet eerily well-produced videos praising, for instance, that guy they wanted us to vote for instead of Kulongoski. In that particular instance, the organizer's explicit directive was that "we" did not like him for what he had done to PERS and whatever else, so we needed "to teach him a lesson." A few months later, she came back and told us that we now liked Kulongoski and should vote for him, and could she interest us in some phone banking? No, she could not.

    The same organizer also told us that it was "impossible" for SEIU to update its membership rolls (or, for that matter, do much of anything in the direction of helping our local officers resolve any problems in the workplace or within our membership - hey, it's not business unionism anymore, we're the organizing union!). That may explain why, 6+ months after I quit the job and stopped being an SEIU member, I am still besieged nearly daily by phone calls and leaflets telling me how to vote. I always sort of wished I could pay my union dues by waiving my allotment of glossy full-color mailings, but now that my propaganda deliveries are being subsidized by someone else's dues and hard work, I guess it's totally cool.

    Working for a state agency and being an SEIU member was a lot like setting out on a long car trip with your lover and your best friend in a community-owned car that's real shiny on the outside but kind of smelly on the inside. Then finding out that you have to do all the driving, in addition to paying premium prices for sub-par gas and snacks. Then finding out your lover is sleeping with your best friend, and then having to mediate all their stupid arguments, for like maybe 30 years! So basically, I decided to walk. But, to those hale and hardy and/or surly and lazy souls who could actually put up with all that crap, please go in peace and do enjoy your PERS. What the taxpayers never seem to understand is that PERS is something that is earned - earned through endurance and leverage, if nothing else!

    Maybe this is naive, but I'm still harboring hope an endorsement might be different. I've heard SEIU's political organ is really intelligent, maybe even tender when you get to know it better...

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