Labor unions funded pro-Democratic attack groups, including Planned Parenthood, in the 2012 elections, joining a collection of left-leaning organizations in spending more to beat Republicans in state elections across the nation than Republican donors such as the Koch Brothers did, according to a new investigation from a public watchdog group.

The Center for Public Integrity reports that nonprofits, super PACs, and other non-candidate groups spent at least $209 million to influence elections in 38 states. Their analysis found that pro-Democratic organizations, many associated with and funded by unions, outspent their Republican counterparts by more than $8 million.

The analysis counters the conventional wisdom that non-party Republican groups like Koch Industries outspent Democratic groups. Labor unions, which have decried the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates of spending by so-called super PACs, led the way in spending.

"In January 2012, on the second anniversary of the Citizens United decision, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued a statement saying the case ‘seriously undermined our democracy,'" said the CPI report.

“But unions were among the organizations that took best advantage of the deregulated environment in state-level races last year. Union-funded outside groups helped Democratic governors win close contests in Montana and Washington. And Democrats took control of the state house in Colorado and both chambers in Maine and Minnesota. In those states, Democratic candidates received significant help from outside groups funded largely by wealthy individuals and national unions,” added CPI’s report provided in advance to Secrets. It was released Thursday morning.

The well-researched and lengthy analysis includes several examples of state races where Democrats outspent Republicans, in part with significant union funding. One notable race was the recall election of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker who had challenged public employee unions.

While challenger Tom Barrett, the Democratic Mayor of Milwaukee,, raised only $4.4 million to Walker’s $30 million, outside groups like unions evened the spending by using a $30 million war chest against Walker, said the analysis. That included public sector union funding of anti-Walker efforts by groups like Planned Parenthood.

Said the report:

“Outside groups funded by national unions spent heavily to help Barrett stay competitive. In total, outside groups reported spending at least $30 million in Wisconsin state elections last year, though millions more were likely spent on ‘issue ads’ that went unreported. Funds from the D.C.-based headquarters of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Service Employees International Union and the National Education Association teachers’ union moved between several nonprofits and state-level committees before being spent.

“Those groups include Planned Parenthood, the League of Conservation Voters and the immigrant-rights organization Voces De La Frontera, according to state and Department of Labor records.”

Key findings from the new report:

— Spending by outside groups (nonprofits, super PACs, and other non-candidate organizations) totaled at least $209 million in 38 states in the 2012 election cycle.

— Pro-Democratic groups, many associated with unions, outspent their Republican counterparts by more than $8 million in those states.

— More than one out of every two dollars spent originated from groups funded primarily or entirely by out-of-state donors.

— The Republican Governors Association, backed by conservative billionaires and large corporations, spent at least $34 million, making it the single biggest outside spender in the analysis.

— The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling made it easier than ever for outside groups to raise and spend cash on state races — the ruling invalidated restrictions on corporate and union spending in 24 states.

— In New Hampshire, outside spending groups outspent the candidates themselves and spent at least $24 per registered voter.

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at