After Democrat Barack Obama does battle with Republican John McCain tonight, a prominent Obama supporter is scheduled to pop up in the post-debate ad breaks, stating his opposition to pro-union legislation that enjoys the backing of Obama and Democratic leaders.
George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic nominee and now a venerated party elder, appears in minute-long ads by the Employee Freedom Action Committee, which is using criticism of the Employee Free Choice Act as a club to beat on Democratic Senate candidates in several states.
While unions say the bill will make it easier for workers to join a union without corporate harassment, McGovern and industry-backed groups say it will take away secret ballots in union elections, allowing the organizers to intimidate workers.
McGovern says in the ad: “It’s hard to believe that any politician would agree to a law denying millions of employees the right to a private vote.”
At least at first glance, it’s also hard to believe that arch-liberal McGovern would team up with Rick Berman, who runs the Employee Freedom Action Committee. It has got to be one of the oddest of odd couples.
Berman has made a career of attacking liberal activists, Democrat-backed policies and labor unions on behalf of industry. He assisted Newt Gingrich in his climb to become speaker of the House. The Employee Freedom Action Committee is one of several nonprofits set up by Berman to engage in aggressive public relations without indentifying the donors behind them. This year, he’s spending $30 million to attack Democratic Senate candidates with ads about the labor bill. His group will spend $2 million airing the McGovern ad in key Senate races in Kentucky, Oregon, Maine, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Hampshire and Colorado. (Another group, the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, is plowing this same anti-union ground in Senate races.)
McGovern, on the other hand, is celebrated at Democratic party gatherings. In a dramatic move this spring, he abandoned Hillary Clinton and endorsed Barack Obama in the name of party unity.
Then again, when McGovern says in the ad, “I’ve always been a champion of labor unions,” it may be a bit of a stretch. (He goes on to say, “But I fear that today’s union leaders are turning their backs on democratic workplace elections.”) He was a congressman and senator from South Dakota, a right-to-work state that prohibits “closed” union shops. McGovern came out against the Employee Free Choice Act in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in August. He also turns up at the Web site of the FirstJobs Institute, a component in Berman’s network.
And not that we believe in grudges, but the record shows that when McGovern was on track to win the nomination in 1972, organized labor did all that it could to stop him.
It’s also worth wondering what impact the ad might have tonight—a presidential nominee from 36 years ago talking about a bill that’s pretty much guaranteed to go unmentioned by the 2008 contenders.
This originally appeared on The Secret Money Project Blog, a joint project of CIR and National Public Radio tracking the hidden cash in the 2008 election.