By DAVID GROVES
(June 9, 2014) — Unions in Washington state: prepare to get sued in the name of freedom!
For what, you ask? It doesn’t matter. The Freedom Foundation will come up with something, as long as it fulfills their new Litigation Attorney’s mission to “defund and discredit the union political machine.”
“Litigation is an essential part of our strategy to take on unions and their political allies,” explains the job announcement posted by the Olympia-based right-wing think tank. In a nutshell, the FF wants to hire somebody responsible for “filing and aggressively pursuing legal actions against labor unions and their allies” with the straightforward objective of costing unions money and weakening them politically.
The FF is a non-profit organization that espouses “free-market principles,” which means laissez-faire capitalism, and therefore abhors unions. (Apparently, the freedom of association isn’t very high on their Freedom Priority List.) Formerly known as the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, this group has been engaging in legal and public-relations campaigns against unions since it was founded in 1991 by Bob Williams, a former Republican state legislator and gubernatorial candidate who mustered 37.8% of the vote in 1988.
Source Watch reports that the FF has close ties to the infamous corporate-funded bill mill, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and it gets money from national foundations funded by aggressively anti-union Republican billionaires like Richard Scaife, Thomas Roe, and the Walton family. The Center for Media and Democracy explains how funding for the FF and its fellow members of the State Policy Network is traced back to — you guessed it — the notorious billionaire Koch brothers. The FF uses all that Koch/ALEC/Walmart money to promote privatization of public schools, cutting taxes and reducing government services, and attacking unions.
But the FF is also a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, which the Internal Revenue Service says is “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”
Sure, the FF can legally participate in “voter education,” as it does each election with its voter guides. But the IRS says that if those efforts “have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, (it) will constitute prohibited participation or intervention,” thus jeopardizing the FF’s tax-exempt status. Note that the IRS doesn’t reference political parties, it specifically refers to “groups of candidates,” which would presumably include groups of candidates opposed or supported by unions.
Does the Freedom Foundation engage in prohibited political activity when it works to “defund and discredit the union political machine” and “take on unions and their political allies” via lawsuits? I’ll leave that question to the attorneys. (All applicants for FF Litigation Attorney should come to the interview prepared for that particular tap dance.)
For unions, the imminent hiring of a FF legal attack dog is another escalation in the war against labor declared by the group’s new CEO Tom McCabe. Since Day 1 on his new job, McCabe has vowed to “strike a blow against big union bosses” and if his previous stint running the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) is any indication, this war will be an expensive and divisive one for unions in Washington state, and for the Freedom Foundation itself.
McCabe turned the BIAW, a once-moribund homebuilders’ association, into a major political player via a scheme that siphoned millions of dollars from the state-run workers’ compensation system. But his legacy of big political spending there netted few victories. And his abrasive rhetoric — BIAW once declared that Gov. Chris Gregoire was a “heartless, power-hungry she-wolf who would eat her own young to get ahead” — alienated elected officials and some of BIAW’s own members.
Ultimately, the final straw was McCabe’s decision to spend more than $6 million in 2008 in a failed attempt to get Republican Dino Rossi elected as governor amid a housing crunch that was devastating most homebuilders. The internal BIAW acrimony that ensued led to McCabe’s ouster, but not before he negotiated a $1.25 million buyout and a year’s health-care coverage as a parting gift. (Who says running a non-profit can’t be profitable?) Since then, he’s done some political consulting, including working on Republican John Koster’s unsuccessful 2012 campaign for Congress.
Now McCabe has the reins of Bob Williams’ once-wonky Freedom Foundation and he’s unabashed about his plan to defund labor for political reasons. Given his personal experience at BIAW fending off expensive lawsuits and his open lamentations that Washington’s right-wingers lack an aggressive political litigant, it would appear his strategy is to have the FF sue unions — for whatever. If he wins a few rounds in court and makes it harder for union members to join together or to have a political voice, that’s just gravy. The main course is forcing unions and their allies to rack up some expensive attorneys’ fees.
So get ready, organized labor. The Freedom Foundation is about to make sure you know that freedom ain’t free.
David Groves is Editor of The Stand.