(OLYMPIA, Wash.) — A Thurston County Superior Court judge on Feb. 15 dismissed a baseless counterclaim filed by Teamsters Local 117 in an ongoing campaign finance lawsuit brought against it by the Freedom Foundation.
The ruling means the Freedom Foundation won’t be penalized for ensuring Teamsters 117 complies with the same laws other Washington residents do. Meanwhile, the union will have to explain in open court why a political action committee created for the purpose of supporting labor-approved candidates allegedly concealed hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of electioneering from the public and its own membership.
The judge’s action is the latest turn in a case based on a complaint filed by the Freedom Foundation to the Washington State Attorney General’s Office in 2017, alleging that the union — through its surrogate the Teamsters Local 117 Segregated Fund — violated public disclosure laws by not reporting dozens of campaign contributions funneled to political candidates and ballot measures in Washington state during the 2016-2017 election cycles.
As a so-called “527 nonprofit,” the union PAC claims exemption from federal taxes but was required to annually report to the IRS or state its expenditures and contributions.
The Freedom Foundation alleges it did neither.
And when Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson — whose own two campaigns for office were heavily underwritten by government employee unions including the Teamsters — declined to act on the complaint, the Freedom Foundation filed suit on its own.
Clearly trying to discourage any challenge to its political entanglements, Teamsters 117 responded with a retaliatory counterclaim, alleging that:
- the Freedom Foundation selectively enforced public disclosure requirements only against “Democratic and Democratic-leaning entities – particularly labor unions” that allegedly violate the public disclosure laws, such as Teamsters 117 itself; and,
- by exercising its right under state law to file suit once the state had refused to, the Freedom Foundation became, in effect, an agent of state government.
Judge Erik Price, throwing in a few pointed comments about the union’s “creative lawyering,” dismissed the counterclaim because the Freedom Foundation is obviously not an agent of the state. More importantly, the law could not hand Teamsters 117 a powerful tool with which to intimidate its foes.
“This is what unions do when they know they’ve been dealt a losing hand,” said Freedom Foundation Chief Litigation Counsel Eric Stahlfeld. “Anyone else would simply fold their cards. But unions know they’re playing with their members’ money, so they continue to bluff, hoping we’ll blink first and let them take the pot.
“But the Freedom Foundation can’t be bluffed,” he said. “You’d think they’d have learned that by now considering how many of these cases they’ve lost to us.”