World / Politics

Clinton bags AFL-CIO backing, bests Trump in pharmaceutical sector funds


Hillary Clinton on Thursday won the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, in another sign of her consolidation of the Democratic party heading into next month’s convention.

The AFL-CIO’s general board voted to endorse Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a move that had been expected after Clinton secured enough support among delegates to become the presumptive Democratic nominee.

“Hillary Clinton is a proven leader who shares our values,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement. “Throughout the campaign, she has demonstrated a strong commitment to the issues that matter to working people, and our members have taken notice.”

Previewing a fall campaign in which debates over labor, jobs and foreign trade could be key, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump fired back in a lengthy statement accusing Clinton of being, “totally owned by Wall Street.”

“The leadership of the AFL-CIO has made clear that it no longer represents American workers,” Trump said, echoing some of Sanders’ language. “Instead they have become part of the rigged system in Washington, D.C. that benefits only the insiders.”

Clinton won the endorsements of many of the AFL-CIO’s largest members in the past year, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers, paving the way for the AFL-CIO to back her campaign.

While Sanders’ list of union endorsements is shorter, he had the support of a vocal group of rank-and-file union members who were drawn to his opposition to past trade deals and calls for a $15 an hour minimum wage.

Sanders’ support within labor circles contributed in part to the AFL-CIO’s decision to withhold its endorsement during the primaries. But labor leaders have been coalescing around Clinton. In a speech this week to his members, the president of the Communications Workers of America, which endorsed Sanders, said it was time to get behind Clinton.

“Bernie is not going to be the nominee. Hillary Rodham Clinton will be,” said Chris Shelton, CWA’s president, adding “and whatever you think of Secretary Clinton … she is the candidate who is running against Donald Trump.”

The labor federation represents 12.5 million members and is a potent force in Democratic politics and voter turnout. Union leaders have been gearing up for a general election showdown against Republican Trump, whom they portray as a threat to working families but fared well among blue-collar voters during the GOP primaries.

“This election offers a stark choice between an unstoppable champion for working families and an unstable charlatan who made his fortune scamming them,” said Lee Saunders, the president of AFSCME and the chair of the AFL-CIO political committee.

Labor’s role in the debate over foreign trade could be crucial in the fall campaign.

Trump has denounced “stupid” trade deals that hurt U.S. workers, a message that could have resonance in labor-heavy Rust Belt states that have been in the Democratic column in past elections such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Clinton has meanwhile taken more money from employees of America’s 15 biggest pharmaceuticals companies than all of the Republicans who attempted a run for the White House this year combined, according to campaign finance disclosures.

The donations, which were nearly double those accepted by Democratic rival Sanders, came even as the former senator and secretary of state vowed to curb price gouging in the industry if elected.

Clinton’s campaign took nearly $240,000 from employees of the industry between its launch and the end of April, compared with just under $168,000 for all of the Republicans together, including around $1,700 for presumptive Republican nominee Trump, according to the filings.

The money, a drop in the bucket of Clinton’s nearly $190 million in overall individual contributions, has tended to come from people in top jobs: 54 percent of the donors list their position as executive, director, manager or lawyer. Donors and company officials contacted by Reuters declined comment on the contributions.

Industry insiders say the sector may be drawn to Clinton for a few reasons: She has a good chance of winning against Trump in November, her policies are relatively transparent and predictable, and she’s more supportive of international trade than rivals.

Many of the biggest pharmaceuticals companies are also headquartered in areas of the country that are more heavily populated by liberals, like New Jersey and New York — another potential reason for the Clinton-heavy employee donations.

“(Trade) is, in particular, an issue for the pharmaceutical industry. They all operate trans-nationally,” said Dan Mendelson, president of Avalere Health, a consulting firm that works with companies across the health sector.

He added: “We have very limited ability to predict what would happen in a Trump administration. We don’t know the people, we don’t have a lot to go on.”

Trump, who largely self-funded his primary bid, only recently began soliciting donations for the general election, meaning his contributions from supporters in all industries are likely to rise in the coming months.

Clinton tapped into widespread public frustration over soaring health costs this winter when she outlined a plan to curb drug price hikes and singled out pharmaceuticals company Valeant, saying she would “go after them” if elected.

Trump’s campaign seized on Clinton’s donations from the industry as proof that she would be unlikely to follow through.

“Hillary Clinton will be totally controlled by the special interests,” Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said.

Clinton has rejected the idea.

“Hillary Clinton has spent her career fighting to crack down on rising prescription drug prices and hold drug companies accountable,” spokesman Josh Schwerin said.

Clinton’s donations from drug companies have grown since the last time she ran, in 2008, but fall far short of her rival in that race, President Barack Obama, who took in more than $500,000 in contributions from employees of pharmaceutical companies during the equivalent period of time.

Clinton’s total in this race so far, however, beats the combined take in the 2012 election of Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney from employees of the industry of $170,000, according to the filings.