Labor leader John J. Dougherty may be out of the mayor's race as a candidate, but as head of a union with 4,572 members and $2.1 million in cash on hand in its political fund, he can still be as big a behind-the-scenes player as he wants to be.

The union he leads, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, has a long history of campaign spending. Its fund was one of Gov. Rendell's biggest donors.

That gives the union an edge, not only in directing loyal foot soldiers on the ground come Election Day, but in last-minute spending as well. And not just for Democrats.

Some details of what the union has done lately with its political action committee (PAC) fund is spelled out in campaign reports filed since last November's election - when it backed a couple of losing Republicans.

To wit:

Four days before the Nov. 7 vote, Local 98's federal PAC purchased $22,000 worth of T-shirts from a South Philadelphia store, Sporting Goods KO, to help the sputtering reelection bid of Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.).

The PAC bought another $9,785 in shirts from the same store on Election Day, plus $4,025 in still more pro-Santorum shirts from Third Base Sports & Trophies in Cherry Hill.

Santorum got even more help from Local 98's PAC, via $15,909 it spent at a local graphics firm, Strassheim Graphic & Design Press Corp.

Exactly what the Strassheim money paid for is unclear. The only description given by the union in its federal report: "Propaganda."

"That's something we don't see every day," Federal Election Commission spokesman Bob Biersack said. "Somebody was being clever."

In all, the Local 98 PAC spent $376,030 in the three weeks before the Nov. 7 vote, and the three weeks afterward - including more money on "propaganda" opposing the Democrat who beat Santorum, now-U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, and in support of the failed reelection bid of U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon (R., Delaware County).

Contact staff writer Marcia Gelbart at 215-854-2338 or mgelbart@phillynews.com.