‘Freedom’ update: Lose to win, privacy reprieve, probes sought

The Stand

OLYMPIA (May 16, 2016) — In the end, it was the Freedom Foundation’s abject failure that helped it escape accountability and win a round in court on Friday.

In 2014, as part of a national campaign by American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to undermine public employee unions, the Freedom Foundation bankrolled cookie-cutter ballot measures in several Washington cities that sought to impose so-called “right-to-work” collective bargaining restrictions on city governments. National right-wing groups were seeking a test case for a local right-to-work ordinance to set up legal challenges that would go all the way to the corporate-friendly U.S. Supreme Court.

The city governments of Sequim, Shelton, Chelan and Blaine unanimously rejected the Freedom Foundation’s anti-union propositions and blocked them from the ballot because state law doesn’t allow such local interference in collective bargaining statutes. The FF sued the cities to try to force the issue, but failed in each case, so the propositions never appeared on the cities’ ballots.

In 2015, the State Attorney General’s office sued the FF for failing to report its independent expenditures — thousands of dollars in legal and logistical support — on behalf of the proposed city ballot measures. The AG’s office argued that, under state law, the public has a right to know who is bankrolling such measures.

But last Friday, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor dismissed the AG’s lawsuit because the city elections never happened. In other words, because the Freedom Foundation failed to get any of their right-to-work measures on the ballot, the judge decided that public-disclosure laws didn’t apply.

Judge protects state employees’ privacy — for now

Also Friday, Judge Tabor blocked the Freedom Foundation’s access to the personal information of state employees for at least two more weeks, in response to the efforts by the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE), AFSCME Council 28 to protect their members’ privacy.

The FF is trying to get the names, home addresses and even birthdates of public employees at state agencies, colleges and universities so they can contact them at home and try to convince them to quit their unions. The FF has already succeeded in getting lists of certain public employees and is calling, mailing and even sending people to their doorsteps in their campaign to try to weaken the union.

WFSE reports that the judge’s decision granting at least a two-week delay gives state employees more time to act to protect their privacy by signing two online petitions:

DO-NOT-CALL REGISTRY — This petition demands that the Freedom Foundation stop this violation of privacy. In the event that the state allows the release of their private personal information, this formally requests that the FF remove that information from their databases and not call, e-mail, mail or contact them.

PROTECT MY PRIVACY — The WFSE says that the longer-term solution is to clarify the law to avoid these repeated legal battles. So the union is urging all to sign this petition to tell state legislators that they need to change the law when they return in January so this never happens again.

Ironically, the Freedom Foundation refuses to disclose its own funders and has claimed that it withholds this information from the public to protect its donors from harassment, which is exactly what they are doing on a daily basis to public employees.

Research indicates that the vast majority of FF funding comes from a network of right-wing groups and foundations funded by billionaires like the Koch brothers and the Walton family.

Kilmer, DelBene request IRS action on FF

Meanwhile, calls are intensifying for the Internal Revenue Service to investigate and repeal the Freedom Foundation’s 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. A coalition of community and labor organizations in Washington and Oregon has called for an IRS investigation into what they say is partisan political activity by the FF.

Last month, U.S. Reps. Derek Kilmer and Suzan DelBene co-signed a letter to the IRS also asking the IRS to conduct such an investigation and to provide any updates to them. The letter cites the allegations in the original complaint that the FF is operating in violation of its tax-exempt status, in that:

●  The Freedom Foundation is undertaking political campaign intervention on behalf of partisan candidates for office.

●  The Freedom Foundation is operating for the private benefit of the Republican Party and other Conservative and Libertarian groups in the states of Washington and Oregon.

●  A substantial part of the Freedom Foundation’s activity is attempting to influence legislation and lobbying at the state and local level.

“The Freedom Foundation is blatantly ignoring the IRS rules that prohibit tax-exempt organizations from engaging in partisan political activity,” said Andrew Biviano of the Northwest Accountability Project (NAP), which helped organize the IRS complaint. “As a result, they’re getting tax breaks while taxpayers are footing the bill for their conservative attacks.”

The NAP is also asking Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Secretary of State Kim Myman to launch an investigation into the Freedom Foundation’s tax-exempt status and compliance with state rules. Some 30 state legislators have also called for a state investigation.

Among the evidence offered, a videotaped Republican fundraiser for state Rep. Lynda Wilson (R-Vancouver), in which Freedom Foundation CEO Tom McCabe says, “Why are we focused on the labor unions?… They are by far the largest contributors to the Democratic Party.”

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