The L.A. County Federation of Labor can make or break a politician's career. The Fed's endorsement brings an army of precinct walkers and door knockers, which can turn the tide in a local race.
But now that endorsement is becoming harder to get.
Under new requirements rolled out at Fed headquarters last week, candidates who want the Fed's support will have to spend a day in the shoes of a union worker. They can collect garbage, clean toilets or empty bedpans.
But we're just getting started.
First, a note on sourcing. Unfortunately, the Fed would not confirm any of this. But we've heard the same thing from several people who were in the room. None wanted to be identified, lest they get on the wrong side of Maria Elena Durazo, the Fed's executive secretary treasurer. So with that aside, let's continue with the new requirements.
To get the Fed's backing, candidates will also have to pay for campaign literature that "tells the story" of a union worker. (E.g.: "Jim is a longshoreman. After a long day on the docks, the last thing he and his brothers in the ILWU want to worry about is seeing their insurance rates go up...")
But wait, there's more. Candidates will also be required to get out the Fed's message on ballot measures. Most likely, this is about defeating a "paycheck protection" initiative, which would make it much harder for labor to participate in the political process. So the candidates are going to have to spend some of their own money knocking that down.
So far, this is about the Fed using its endorsement process to extend the reach of its advertising message. But the last requirement -- which made some people in the room a little queasy -- is about integrating the Fed more completely with the Democratic Party.
Each Democratic legislator and member of Congress gets a handful of delegates to the state Central Committee. In exchange for the Fed endorsement, candidates will now have to give the Fed one of their delegates. The Democratic delegates vote on party endorsements, so in theory this would give labor an extra measure of control over that process.
This struck some folks as perhaps too bald a quid pro quo. But Eric Bauman, the chair of the L.A. County Democratic Party, said he was not bothered by it.
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"A key part of the Democratic Party's base is labor," Bauman said. "They want to have a voice at the table for the various decisions the party makes. I welcome that."
What's the point of all of these new requirements? Well, candidates are already in the habit of groveling for the Fed endorsement. But the Fed has decided that groveling is not enough. It's the old "Will you still love me, tomorrow?" problem. Nothing prevents candidates from going wobbly once they get into office.
So the Fed has opted to go after some ironclad commitments. This applies not just to rookie candidates, but also to any incumbents looking to move up. Even if they've gotten Fed support in the past, they'll still have to do all of this.
The message to candidates is clear: Grab a mop.