Sunday, January 6, 2008

AFSCME's Campaign Mailer for Hillary

This pro-Hillary mailer being sent out by AFSCME demonstrates exactly the problems with interest group politics in America today. Not that interest groups should stay out of elections; but the problems of our two-party rule have undermined our system's ability to mitigate the effects of faction. Interest groups like unions who choose to affiliate with a particular political party's establishment wind up caring more about protecting the party's establishment than they do about advancing their own issues. And so a major union sends out a mailer that has nothing to do whatsoever with its core issues.

Matt Yglesias says this:

"It's one thing for a group to attack a candidate on the group's key issues -- that's what groups are there for -- but this is just off-topic fearmongering."

He is of course correct. Since unions like AFSCME (perhaps especially AFSCME, and especially AFSCME's leadership) have tied their fortunes so closely to the Democratic party establishment, supporting the Democratic party establishment becomes as much a priority as actually fighting for their primary issues. Indeed, Mark's Rule #5 of interest group politics predicts this sort of behavior:

The larger a political party and the less coherent its ideology, the more the political party affects the ideology of its constituent interest groups and the less the constituent interest groups affect the party's ideology.

Yglesias points out that a number of AFSCME's board members are upset about the mailer and are actively disowning it, but that AFSCME is such a top-down union that the board members' opinions don't have too much influence with the leadership. From my one or two personal experiences with AFSCME, I can say that he is probably correct about that.