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Where Small-Bucks Campaign Donors Still Count

PHOTO: State government and home care workers meet with legislators in early 2014. Some members of SEIU Local 503 donate as little as $5 a month to a fund for candidate contributions and endorsements. Photo courtesy SEIU Local 503.
PHOTO: State government and home care workers meet with legislators in early 2014. Some members of SEIU Local 503 donate as little as $5 a month to a fund for candidate contributions and endorsements. Photo courtesy SEIU Local 503.
October 20, 2014

EUGENE, Ore. – It may be tough for hourly wage workers in Oregon to compete with the political influence of millionaires and billionaires, but that doesn't mean they shouldn’t try.

That's the view of the union that represents many service workers in the state, including child care providers, home health aides, custodians and college support staff.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 has a Citizen Action for Political Education or CAPE fund that pools members' voluntary donations to make candidate endorsements and campaign contributions.

CAPE chairman James Jacobson says the lowest paid workers are some of the most loyal contributors to the fund.

"These people who understand what can be done with a little bit of money, they make the sacrifice – and it truly is, for the lowest-earning people in our union,” he says. “They may have just started out with $5 a month, but they give."

Jacobson says about one-third of SEIU Local 503 members contribute, and this year, the CAPE Fund has donated to candidates in about 10 state legislative races.

He adds the CAPE board stresses to members that Oregon politics affect economic justice issues for all working people, and are worth weighing in on.

Unions are often criticized for their political activism. And Jacobson says like with any group, some union members steer clear of politics.

But he says others – even if they can't afford to donate – volunteer their time to canvass neighborhoods, make phone calls and attend rallies for the politicians or causes they support.

"They've seen how far they can come and how effective they can be when they join together, and not only fight for a decent contract, but you also have to be involved with the Legislature,” he says. “The Legislature sets budgets, and if you want to have an influence, you better be organized politically."


Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR