The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) is a labor union representing electrical workers across the United States and Canada. The IBEW a member union of the AFL-CIO labor federation. The IBEW routinely gives large donations to candidates and political action committees affiliated with the Democratic Party, in addition to directly involving itself in policymaking, especially on questions of the environment.
Local chapters of the IBEW have been plagued by scandal. In 2019 alone, leaders of two IBEW chapters were investigated by federal authorities and indicted under federal corruption statutes.
History and Activity
The IBEW represents approximately 677,000 active members and retirees in a range of fields related to electrical work, including utilities, construction, telecommunications and broadcasting, and government.  The IBEW has chapters in both the United States and Canada, and it is one of the largest unions in the AFL-CIO labor union federation. 
The IBEW has negotiated contracts across Canada and the United States on behalf of union members, in addition to organizing demonstrations through local chapters for and against particular pieces of legislation. IBEW local chapters have been particularly active in energy policy, occasionally breaking ranks with left-of-center partners to often support right-of-center policies on natural resources. 
In February 2020, the controversial IBEW Local 98 in Philadelphia clashed with left-of-center organizers when union members supported plans to reopen a shuttered oil refinery in Pennsylvania.  Union leader John Dougherty, at the time under federal indictment for alleged public corruption, argued in favor of reopening the refinery to create nearly 1000 jobs related to the fossil fuel industry, even claiming to have found the Trump administration to be “100% an ally for jobs” at a public rally.  IBEW came out in support of the construction of a $10 billion oil pipeline in Oregon that same month.  IBEW has also opposed efforts to institute a “Green New Deal” in California, running a series of attack ads against Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s (D) decision to shut down three gas-fired power plants, which killed several hundred jobs. 
In spite of local chapters rejecting left-of-center environmental policies, IBEW International has taken several left-of-center stances on environmental policy. In August 2019, IBEW joined with over 100 organizations, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, in pushing Department of Labor officials to create and enforce various heat standard regulations for outdoor workers, citing an increase in temperatures caused by climate change.  In February 2020, the IBEW cohosted California’s first series of summits with policymakers and industry leaders to discuss transitioning the state to 100% environmentalist energy.  The IBEW also supports the unionization of the environmentalist energy industry, organizing Tesla solar panel factory workers in April 2019. 
In September 2019, the city of San Francisco announced a $2.5 billion plan to take over local Pacific Gas and Energy Co. (PG&E) lines after PG&E declared bankruptcy.  IBEW members came out in firm opposition to the plan, criticizing the shift from private to publicly held energy equipment as one which would disrupt employee rights and pensions.  IBEW Local 1245 leadership even threatened to take legal action against the city if it did not cease its efforts to buy PG&E equipment in the region. 
In 2017 and 2018 alone, IBEW Political Action Committees (PAC) donated over $11 million to various political organizations and campaigns.  In the 2018 election cycle, IBEW PAC donated over $2.5 million directly to candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives, with 96% of those contributions made to Democrats.  In 2016, IBEW PAC also donated $10,000 to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.  In 2018, IBEW PAC gave its largest single donation to Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s (D) campaign, amounting to $636,250. 
IBEW PAC has also supported Democrats through donations to other left-of-center organizations and political action committees. In 2018 alone, IBEW PAC donated $300,000 to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), $120,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and another $120,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.  IBEW made smaller donations to a variety of left-of-center organizations, including Progressive Choices PAC ($10,000), Progressive Americans for Democracy ($10,000), and the Democrats Win Seats PAC ($10,000). 
In February 2020, the IBEW announced its support for Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, becoming one of the first labor unions to come out in support of a candidate in the 2020 Democratic primary.  The move marked a shift from a former IBEW policy of remaining neutral during the primary season.  In both 2008 and 2016, the IBEW withheld support from any candidate until an apparent nominee had been chosen, eventually endorsing both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. 
IBEW president Lonnie Stephenson described the reason for the shift in policy as motivated by an “urgency” to support a candidate aligned with union values, specifically on the issue of natural gas exploration through hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).  Other candidates, such as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), have supported an outright ban on fracking, which is a large source of employment for the 85% of IBEW members who work in the energy industry.   Biden does not support such a ban, and Stephenson argued that his less-radical climate policies demonstrate that Biden “has listened to IBEW members.”  Nonetheless, the IBEW expressed support for Biden’s proposed $1.3 trillion investment in environmentalist energy technologies to combat climate change over a ten-year period, arguing that investment in combatting climate change “without putting energy security or working families at risk” is a paramount issue.  
Local Corruption Allegations
Local 1260, Honolulu
In August 2019, a federal court in Honolulu, Hawaii unsealed a 70-count indictment against Brian Ahakuelo, then-business manager for the Honolulu Local 1260 of the IBEW.  Ahakuelo’s wife and sister-in law were also named in the indictment.  The family members were charged with conspiracy, money laundering, wire fraud, and embezzlement after a five-year investigation by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the United States Department of Labor, and the State of Hawaii revealed an estimated $1.4 million of missing union funds.  All three family members pleaded not guilty to all charges. 
The next day, the court handed down indictments to four more members of IBEW Local 1260 for allegedly rigging a 2015 union vote to approve a dues hike in order to cover the losses incurred by the embezzled funds.  The complaint claimed that four other union members discarded ballots from the vote on whether to double union dues for the chapter, replacing them with false votes in favor of the measure to conceal the missing funds.  The four indicted for election rigging took a plea deal to testify against Ahakuelo, but no verdict has yet been delivered. 
Local 98, Philadelphia
In January 2019, eight people connected to the Philadelphia chapter of the IBEW were indicted on embezzlement, theft, wife fraud, and other charges following a years-long corruption investigation by federal law enforcement officials.   Charges were filed against influential union boss John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty of Local 98, former Local 98 boss and Philadelphia City Councilman Bobby Henon (D), and six others. 
In 2016, the FBI raided Dougherty’s home, the union’s headquarters, and various other businesses connected to Dougherty, as well as the office of Councilman Henon.  The investigation surfaced allegations that Dougherty had been using his position of power across Pennsylvania for personal favors, including allegedly receiving more than $50,000 in home and office electrical upgrades for free and “donating” $45,000 in union money to his chiropractor’s nonprofit, which was then used for travel and personal expenses.  As federal investigators began to close in on the probe, Dougherty repaid $280,000 to Local 98 in 2018. 
The 153-page federal indictment featured 116 counts, with U.S. Attorney Jennifer Williams alleging that the aim of the racketeering scheme was to “embezzle, steal, and unlawfully and willfully abstract and convert the moneys, funds, securities, property, and other assets belonging to Local 98 for the personal use of the defendants.”  Investigators alleged that Dougherty and other indicted union members stole more than $600,000 from the union.  The indictment further claimed that Henon used his seat on the Philadelphia City Council to do Dougherty’s bidding in exchange for “a stream of personal benefits,” including a $70,000 annual salary from IBEW Local 98 for nondescript office work during his time as a city councilman. 
Dougherty is a notable player in Pennsylvania politics, using more than $2 million from the union-funded political action committee to support Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D), Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D), and Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty (D), John Dougherty’s brother who was elected to the court in 2015 after massive spending by IBEW Local 98.  IBEW International refused to comment on the investigation.  As of February 2020, Dougherty and his seven co-defendants are scheduled to stand trial in September 2020. 
People and Funding
The IBEW is funded almost entirely by member dues, with over 85% of its total 2018 revenue coming from membership fees.  The IBEW also received funding from administrative reimbursements, conference fees, and gains on investments. 
Lonnie R. Stephenson is the current international president of the IBEW, having worked for the union for more than forty years, including five as president.  Stephenson also sits on the Executive Committee of the AFL-CIO and the Governing Board of Presidents for North America’s Building Trades Unions.  Stephenson has supported several left-of-center candidates, including U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) and former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.  Stephenson has also given to left-of-center funding organization ActBlue five times in 2019 alone, in addition to making at least annual contributions to the IBEW PAC.