The Freedom Foundation on April 10 appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court a ruling issued against it in January by the Washington State Supreme Court that, left unchallenged, could have a chilling effect not only on its own efforts but on the ability of advocacy groups throughout the country to provide deserving clients with legal assistance.
The action just underscores the lengths to which public-sector unions at both the local and national level will go to reverse their own legal defeats and punish their most consistently effective foe.
The most recent skirmish concerns a complaint filed by a union front group in 2014 after Freedom Foundation attorneys provided free legal representation to activists in three Washington cities who’d attempted to place labor reform initiatives on their local election ballots.
Bowing to union pressure, officials in all three communities denied voters a chance to vote on the legally submitted measures, prompting ultimately unsuccessful Freedom Foundation-assisted lawsuits by the activists.
In the meantime, the state’s union-compliant attorney general, Bob Ferguson, was only too willing to file a lawsuit alleging the West Coast-based think tank was required to report its legal fees as an in-kind political contribution.
How there could possibly be campaign expenses of any kind associated with an election that never happened is an open question. And by all accounts, the wording of the state’s Fair Campaign Practices Act is, at best, confusing on this point.
Consequently, judges at the Superior and Appellate Court level issued conflicting rulings, followed by a 5-4 decision on Jan. 10 in favor of the AG and the unions by Washington’s notoriously liberal Supreme Court.
That the unions are prepared to go this extreme in a dispute that, by their own admission, amounts to only a few thousand dollars, is no surprise. Nor is the Freedom Foundation’s dogged refusal to roll over and play dead.
Bullying weaker opponents — those not propped up by decades worth of mandatory dues confiscated from millions of government employees — has long been a favorite union tactic. But the Freedom Foundation is a different sort of animal.
Established in 1992 with the objective of promoting “free markets and limited, accountable government,” the organization in 2013 focused its efforts on the chief impediment to those ideals — government employee unions.
In the years since, the Freedom Foundation has waged a multi-front war against government unions using many of their own tactics. These include deploying a small army of paid canvassers statewide to visit public employees in their homes and workplaces to inform them of their rights under a series of recent court decisions to opt out of all union dues and fees.
The Freedom Foundation also relies on a sophisticated grassroots organizing effort, legislative lobbying and a communications program that includes self-produced videos, mailers, emails and a ubiquitous social media presence.
All of it is backed up by the largest and most experienced team of attorneys employed by any conservative, state-based policy organization in the U.S. Our legal team is necessary to hold the unions accountable when they try to prevent government employees from resigning membership — but it comes in handy when the unions lash out for revenge, as they did with this Washington state lawsuit.
Why do the unions keep doing what they do? Simple. Because what we do works.
Nine months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Janus v. AFSCME that made union dues and fees voluntary for millions of public employees. The Freedom Foundation’s efforts laid the groundwork for the court’s ruling and, afterward, no organization has worked as diligently to ensure unions comply with its unambiguous intent.
Tens of thousands of government employees all across the country abandoned their unions in just the nine months following the Janus decision. Of those, the overwhelming majority did so in Washington, Oregon and California — not coincidentally the very states where the Freedom Foundation maintains offices and does its work.
Small wonder no single opponent has drawn more of the unions’ ire or forced them to devote more of their dwindling resources to playing defense.
That’s why we appealed this Washington court ruling to the Supreme Court. In seeking revenge against the Freedom Foundation for effectively draining much of their financial support, union bosses and the Washington attorney general are threatening the free speech rights of citizens across the country who seek legal assistance from nonprofit organizations and the organizations that provide such help.
When you’re over the target, you draw flak. And absolutely no one is zeroed in on the abuses of government unions like the Freedom Foundation is.
Jeff Rhodes is the Managing Editor at the Freedom Foundation.