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After loss in trade fight, AFL-CIO is lifting its freeze on political contributions

The AFL-CIO is lifting the freeze on political contributions it imposed back in March to pressure Democrats against supporting free trade measures, sources familiar with the development tell Fortune.

The labor federation’s decision comes as the Senate on Wednesday approved handing President Obama fast track authority to finalize a sweeping Pacific Rim trade pact, a deal the unions vigorously oppose. But with fast track on its way to the president’s desk and the second fundraising quarter ending next week, the AFL-CIO is re-opening the spigot on donations from its affiliated unions’ political action committees.

The news will come as a relief to vulnerable Democratic incumbents and their allied groups, for whom the absence of financial support over the last several months from such a traditionally critical source was a gut punch. The looming close of fundraising period adds urgency, since candidates hope to discourage challengers by posting intimidating hauls in their mid-year campaign disclosure reports.

The AFL-CIO first announced the freeze in March, explaining in a statement that it was choking off contributions “in order to conserve resources for the historic legislative battle around fast track… and the debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership.” Labor appeared to be on the verge of victory as recently as two weeks ago, when a revolt by House Democrats derailed progress on the fast track measure. But the White House and its odd-bedfellow allies in Congressional Republican leadership managed to regroup, devising a legislative strategy that salvaged the effort. They sealed their first-round win late Wednesday afternoon, when the Senate voted 60-38 to hand Obama the power to wrap negotiations on the trade pact and then submit it for a simple up-or-down decision in Congress.