DAVE NEESE State House Bureau Chief
April 28, 1997
It's been tagged one of the most mob-infested,
corrupt unions in labor history.
It's under standing orders from the U.S.
Justice Department to purge itself of organized-crime influence
- or face a government takeover.
By the union's own count, 50 FBI agents have
been assigned to oversee the union's mob mop-up.
And the U.S. House of Representatives Sub-committee
on Crime says it too is "monitoring" the 700,000-member
Laborers International Union of North America. But in spite of
the union's long-standing unsavory reputation, its money has always
been welcome in Trenton.
More than welcome, in fact.
And continues to be. Since 1993, Laborers
International has pumped an astonishing $643,500 of donations
into the coffers of state political parties, legislative leaders
and legislative candidates.
That means a union the U.S. Justice Department
labeled a mob "puppet" ranks among the very top bankrollers
of New Jersey politics.
The union serves as a cornucopia of cash
for both parties.
And party chieftains insist it's perfectly
The Laborers International money is absolutely
legal, they stress; it's reported to the N.J. Election Law Enforcement
Commission as law requires.
And, besides, they add, the union is now
cleaning up its act.
Laborers International money is funneled
to the state's politicos through the union's New Jersey "political
action committee" or PAC, based in Cranbury.
The dollars are doled out by check, ranging
in amounts from $1,000 to $25,000 per donation.
Republic and Democratic money handlers alike
welcome the union's downpour of dollars with open arms, like ecstatic
oil wildcatters dancing under a fabulous gusher of black gold.
According to the Election Law Enforcement
Commission's records, Laborers International in 1995 contributed
$86,000 to Democratic Party or Democratic legislative bosses'
political bank accounts. Their Republican counterparts received
But in 1996, the downpour of Laborers' dollars
shifted to the advantage of Republicans, who control both the
Governor's Office and Legislature.
Republican Party chiefs and legislative bosses
last year received $56,000, while their Democratic counterparts
were left with the smaller political handout, about $30,000.
So far this year, the always dependable Laborers
have come through with $16,900 in the first quarter - $13,900
for Democrats, $3,000 for Republicans.
Besides unleashing a flood tide of dollars
on party and legislative bosses, the union also serves as a generous
sugar daddy for individual legislative candidates.
Practically everybody gets at least a little
In the 1993 legislative elections, the Laborers
made 20 contributions to Republican candidates, for a total of
$24,410, and 27 donations to Democratic candidates, for a total
In the 1995 legislative races, the Laborers
dug even deeper for the pols - even though the union's national
headquarters, not far from the White House, by then faced mounting
legal bills from ongoing battles with federal investigators.
In the '95 general election legislative races,
the Laborers were good for 37 donations to Republican candidates,
for a total of $55,210, and 30 donations to Democratic candidates,
for a total of $33,000.
In 1994 and 1995 - as union leaders scrambled
frantically to fend off a federal racketeering complaint - they
were still attentive to the needs of New Jersey pols. The Laborers'
New Jersey PAC disgorged $226,000 in donations over that period
for party and legislative bosses, Republicans and Democrats.
New Jersey Republican State Chairman Chuck
Haytaian and Democratic State Chairman Tom Byrne both are adamant
there's nothing even unseemly, let alone improper, about taking
huge amounts of money from a union like the Laborers International.
"The people I deal with (at the union)
are honorable people," said Byrne.
He praised the Laborers' New Jersey leader,
Raymond Pocino, who was installed as part of the union cleanup
effort, as "a good and upstanding guy."
He said he was not familiar with many of
the details of the union's controversial background and history.
But in his experience, he added, the union's
always-open political checkbook only reflects its interest in
pushing a legitimate agenda.
"That agenda, in one word, is jobs,"
Haytaian, too, said he knew few details of
the Laborers' history or allegations against the union.
But he said it's his understanding that the
U.S. Justice Department cleanup order, signed in January 1995,
"alleviated" the union's mob problems.
The Republican chairman characterized his
party's acceptance of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the
union as a routine political transaction.
"As far as the contributions to the
Democrats and Republicans go, yes, they were made," he said.
"They're just part of the interest groups
that help you if they agree with your philosophy and that don't
help you if they don't agree with your philosophy," he said.
Dennis Jaffee of N.J. Common Cause, a watchdog
group that monitors campaign dollars, said the replies from the
two party bosses are hardly surprising.
The political money solicitors aren't, as
a rule, inclined to look a gift horse too closely in the mouth,
he said. Usually they will spurn a contribution only if they're
certain it will lead to embarrassing and politically damaging
Ethical considerations play hardly any role
at all in transactions involving political dollars, added Jaffee.
Laborers' chief Pocino himself said his union's
reputation for organized-crime links is "overblown' and has
been unfairly exploited by political adversaries.
The cleanup agreement that the union signed
with the U.S. Justice Department recognizes "there were some
pockets of problems," and those are being dealt with, he
He said the Laborers International expects
to fully carry out the requirements of its cleanup deal with the
feds and be released from the government monitoring arrangements.
"And we'll come out of it as a better union," he added.
As for the political donations, he added,
they're meant simply to promote a typical labor union agenda.
That includes the protection of workers' jobs, paychecks and work
conditions, he said. He said the union also is interested in promoting
The Laborers represents mostly construction
workers, brick handlers and asbestos removers. It has about 20,000
New Jersey members.
Given the power of the Legislature to affect
the economic well being of a worker's family just by passing a
particular bill or not passing it," political donations are
a necessity, said Pocino.
"You'd be crazy not to give," he
He insisted the Laborers International contributions
don't buy votes; they just give the union access and a chance
to make its views known to the powers that be.
That is what special interests, whether business,
labor or professional groups, usually say in defense of the political
money games they play.
Pocino was asked whether he thought the hundreds
of thousands of dollars the Laborers International has peeled
off its wad and distributed among New Jersey's pols has been money
He didn't hesitate a second. "Sure,"
he said. "Of course it's been worth it."