Last month, the anti-worker Freedom Foundation (Opt Out Today) struggled to manufacture a celebration around the anniversary of last year’s Supreme Court Janus decision, which overturned 40 years of precedent by attacking collective bargaining rights. As with so much the Freedom Foundation tries to accomplish, things did not go as planned. Here we’ve cataloged the top gaffes and missteps from the Freedom Foundation’s sorry efforts.
1. Dude, where’s my plane?
It seems the Freedom Foundation paid a pilot (likely a sizable amount) to fly a propaganda banner over Seattle on June 27th, the one year anniversary of the Janus decision. The only problem was, confused staff seemingly couldn’t find the plane, and were forced to plead with social media to send photo proof of its existence. This was a huge error, as the only reason they pull stunts like this is to snap pictures and send to their out-of-state billionaire donors.
2. A good reporter would finish my sentences for me
Ashley Varner, the communications person for the Freedom Foundation who does not live in the Northwest, must have stayed up awfully late the night she whipped up this press release. In it, she asked reporters to “please consider incorporating the information provided below,” but failed to end multiple sentences with last words, or even punctuation. Unsurprisingly, no legitimate press ever picked up their release, so we decided to offer Varner some free proofreading and copy editing.
BONUS: Is anyone in the office good at grammar and spelling and stuff?
This isn’t the first time the Freedom Foundation has failed to use the English language properly. Most recently, their employee Aaron Withe had the misfortune of having his face stuck above a grievous spelling error. With all the millions coming in from out of state donors, you’d really think the Freedom Foundation would invest in some proofreaders.
3. The shortest canvass in the West
As part of their ruse to fool workers into dropping out of a union, the Freedom Foundation likes to print misleading signs and pretty brochures to share at work sites. Maxford Nelsen, a “policy director” with the group, did some canvassing himself on the 27th, proudly invading the lobby of the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, in Tumwater. Within thirty minutes, the Washington State Patrol shooed Max and his camera assistant back outside and off the property. Turns out, harassing workers in state building lobbies is a no-no, a safety “policy” that Nelsen forgot to study. Historically, brief spurts of canvassing are par for the course for these folks, as it’s really just about having time to take snapshots to please their out of state donors.
4. Hashtag #Fail
For those in the know, applying a hashtag (#) before a phrase in your social media post makes it searchable across the whole platform, and in a best case scenario gets picked up and spread by others. If only the the anti-worker Freedom Foundation could be so lucky. They thought themselves very clever coming up with the term #Janiversary as a way to brand their messages online, but it fell entirely flat with practically zero circulation. Meanwhile, their big brothers at the State Policy Network came up with a different hashtag they thought was very clever, #Janusversary. The Freedom Foundation then scrambled by posting both hashtags, with similarly embarrassing results. Tweeting is hard.
5. Do we at least get a participation award?
Normally, anniversaries celebrate an accomplishment. Not so much for the Freedom Foundation this year. Tasking themselves with “defunding” labor unions and turning “blue” Washington, Oregon and California into “red” states, the Freedom Foundation has failed to do either, and things are getting worse for them. As union membership in Washington state increases, pro-worker Democrats land in office and more family friendly legislation rolls out along the entire West Coast, the Freedom Foundation must be answering a lot of hard questions from their out of state union-busting funders. “Yeah, things didn’t go so well this year, but have a piece of cake, we’re celebrating.”
The anti-worker Freedom Foundation (aka Opt Out Today) attempts to portray themselves as a legitimate, non-partisan think tank. In reality, they are a billionaire-funded extremist group that wants to take away working people’s voices. Look no further than the men and women they’ve lauded and given a platform to over the years to see where their true values lie. As Maya Angelou once said, when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.
1. Laura Ingraham
For their upcoming 2019 annual banquet, the anti-worker Freedom Foundation has chosen notorious white supremacist and Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham as their keynote speaker. Ingraham has a long history of using her show, The Ingraham Angle, to spread hateful misinformation, race-baiting sentiments, and downright lies. Ingraham made headlines recently for her tirade defending white supremacists, including anti-semite and white nationalist Paul Nehlen, who recently donned a t-shirt celebrating the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting terrorist and the massacre that claimed the lives of 11 people.
The backlash was swift; advertisers responded by removing their ads from her show. While everyone was reeling from her vehement and indefensible promotion of white supremacy, the Freedom Foundation announced her as their keynote speaker the very next day: “We’re delighted and flattered to have someone of her stature share this special evening with us,” said Freedom Foundation CEO Tom McCabe.
2. Dinesh D’Souza
The Freedom Foundation sank to a new low (until their selection of Ingraham) when they hosted bigoted pundit Dinesh D’Souza as the keynote speaker at their 2018 gala. D’Souza has made millions from his racist, homophobic, misogynistic, and anti-working class writings and movies. He has heaped praise on growing income inequality and the strife that working people endure. He opposes the Civil Rights Act, called President Obama a “boy” from “the ghetto”, said that American slaves were treated “pretty well” and African Americans behave differently from other races through negative behavior and dependency. In college, as the editor of the student newspaper, he publicly outed LGBTQ students without their permission.
He is so extreme that even other conservatives dislike him. He was once banned from Conservative Political Action Conference, the annual gathering of Republican ideologues, because he mocked teenage survivors of school shootings. Many conservative thought leaders have accused him of being at the center of the intellectual rot occurring on the right.
When the Freedom Foundation announced D’Souza as the keynote for their fundraiser, Freedom Foundation CEO, Tom McCabe said of D’Souza, he’s “…a perfect fit for the Freedom Foundation.” For once, we agree with McCabe’s assessment.
3. Andy Puzder
In 2017, the Freedom Foundation booked Donald Trump-ally and alleged wage thief Andy Puzder to speak at two of their fundraisers. Puzder, a former fast-food CEO, was nominated for Secretary of Labor, but was too extreme for either party in the U.S. Senate to stomach, and he withdrew his nomination after his anti-worker record and a video of his ex-wife making domestic abuse allegations became public.
As the head of CKE Restaurants, which owns Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., Puzder called his employees “the best of the worst,” and said he’d prefer hiring robots because “there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.” In 2017 alone, current and former Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s workers filed 22 complaints of wage theft with the U.S. Labor Department and state agencies, and four sexual harassment claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Puzder has also been linked to unfair labor practice complaints filed with the National Labor Relations Board.
4. Matt Shea
Extremist Washington State Rep. Matt Shea was an honored guest and speaker at the Freedom Foundation’s 2015 Honors Dinner, and promoted in a Freedom Foundation email as “one of Washington State’s leading conservative voices.” Shea, one of the Freedom Foundation’s only legislative allies in Washington State, has a long history of spewing hate and dangerous rhetoric – from claiming “there’s no difference between Planned Parenthood and what Dr. Josef Mengele did in Germany in the 1940s,” to formalizing his anti-Muslim views by organizing a certified hate group through a chapter of ACT for America.
Late last year, Shea produced and proudly accepted credit for a dangerous 4-page manifesto he calls the “Biblical Basis for War”. This document sets the stage for widespread violence, assassination, use of deception, and waging war to stop same-sex marriage. This manifesto also includes the terrifying step of “If they do not yield – kill all males.”
Bonus: Joe Arpaio
The Freedom Foundation’s former Oregon Director Anne Marie Gurney opened for former Maricopa County Sheriff and outspoken racist Joe Arpaio at a right-wing rally in Salem, OR in 2015. Arpaio is infamous for his racial profiling of immigrants and latinx communities during his tenure as sheriff, as well as the abhorrent conditions of the jail facilities under his charge.
He reinstituted chain gangs and operated a tent city jail that he referred to as a “concentration camp”, where temperatures inside the tents would reach upwards of 145 degrees during the summer months. In 2014, after years of implementing discriminatory policies, Arpaio was charged and later found guilty of criminal contempt of court for failing to stop racial profiling practices. He was later pardoned by President Trump in a move that the American Civil Liberties Union declared “a presidential endorsement of racism”.
In our work tracking extremist organizations, the Northwest Accountability Project has uncovered links between anti-union organizations and those driving anti-LGBTQ sentiment in the Northwest. Many of the same people, organizations, elected officials and funders engage in both anti-union and anti-LGBTQ activity. This link reaffirms something we’ve long known: that the organizations seeking to silence workers have every intention of attacking the progressive community, including groups that support LGBTQ rights, women’s health, environmental justice, and criminal justice. Their strategy is to attack unions, to attack these values, and push a radical agenda in order to elect right-wing candidates. Period.
Take, for instance, the Freedom Foundation, which has engaged in a failed campaign to undermine public sector unions in the Northwest over the past five years. Their CEO, Tom McCabe, is a long-time right-wing operative in Washington state. McCabe has stated this very goal on the record, saying that he wants to “bankrupt unions” on behalf of right-wing candidates and funders. McCabe has often repeated this refrain once saying: “we need to fight unions.’ Because unions have corrupted our state [Washington], they have ensured that we’re the bluest state in the country.”
Let’s put aside for the moment that what McCabe is saying is clearly in violation of their public charity status (tax-exempt organizations like the Freedom Foundation are prohibited from engaging in political activity). A deeper look at the Freedom Foundation funders, the few radical legislative allies (full disclosure, we can count their allies on one hand), as well as McCabe and his staff’s political affiliations, reveals that anti-LGBTQ sentiment lies in the underpinnings of their goals. Take the Murdock Charitable Trust, an anti-LGBTQ foundation based in Southwest Washington. In addition to funding the Freedom Foundation, they fund a slew of dangerous and discriminatory organizations including the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), one of the biggest anti-LGBTQ hate groups in the county. The Murdock Trust has also funded the Portland Fellowship, a provider of the horrific and debunked practice of “conversion therapy.” The Murdock Trust has recently been in hot water for the funding of anti-union and anti-LGBTQ organizations.
Beyond financial ties, the Freedom Foundation staff have a history of extremism when it comes to LGBTQ rights. They have publicly argued against the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015, calling it “a threat to personal freedom.” The Freedom Foundation’s legal team has included a significant number of former “Blackstone Legal Fellows,” a training program of ADF, the anti-LGBTQ hate group. At an AIDS awareness and action day at the state capitol in Olympia, WA, one of their current board members hurled a homophobic slur at children living with HIV. The group included a 13-year-old child and a 16-year-old child.
While the Freedom Foundation remains a pariah in most legislative circles, they managed to find a handful of legislative allies to carry their water in Olympia and Salem. Not surprisingly, these electeds hold regressive views on LGBTQ rights. One example is State Senator John Braun (R- SD 20) who is a staunch supporter of the Freedom Foundation and a leader on anti-LGBTQ legislation in Washington. Earlier in 2019 he voted against a bill that would make conversion therapy for minors illegal. Another is Oregon State Representative Mike Nearman (R-HD 23), a legislator who is as rabidly anti-LGBTQ as he is anti-union. He was one of two representatives opposed to bi-partisan legislation that updated anti-trans language in Oregon statute.
Now, most recently, the Freedom Foundation has built a pipeline for new employees from the controversial, anti-LGBTQ Corban University in Salem. McCabe sent his son to school at Corban. The younger McCabe’s best friend Aaron Withe, also a Corban graduate, was given the job of Oregon Director for the Freedom Foundation. Today, most Freedom Foundation Oregon staffers are alumni of this regressive institution. We have written recently about our investigations into the disgraceful anti-LGBTQ policies of Corban University, which among other things asks LGBTQ students to remain celibate and endorses the practice of conversion therapy.
Though the anti-LGBTQ movement and the anti-union movement may seem different on their face, the link between them is undeniable. The labor movement provides a powerful voice for all workers including those who face discrimination in the workplace and in their daily lives. By actively seeking to destroy it, groups like the Freedom Foundation hope to depress the rights of workers to build a better future for themselves and their families. The good news is that the Freedom Foundation has not only failed to break the labor movement, but their attacks are making unions stronger. And that’s a good thing for the LGBTQ community in America and the Northwest.
The Freedom Foundation is failing miserably.
This isn’t how the Koch-funded anti-union organization expect the past year to go for them. In fact, one year ago this week, anti-worker organizations like the Freedom Foundation were celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME. They incorrectly assumed the decision would lead to the end of public sector unions and worker power in the United States.
Here are the facts about what has happened in the past year: Union membership is on the rise (in Washington State it grew by 10% in 2018), and states in the Northwest have collectively passed one of the most pro-working families agendas in history. The unions attacked most by the Freedom Foundation remain a powerful voice for working families.
Please watch and share our new video about how the Freedom Foundation’s billionaire-funded effort to convince workers to drop their union membership has failed.
Despite the anti-worker Freedom Foundation’s tax-exempt status which prohibits political spending, their CEO Tom McCabe made it very clear that their true mission is to win elections for Republicans and to push the right wing’s agenda. With pro-worker leaders and policies now in place up and down the West Coast, it’s clear that their grand scheme to turn the blue states of Washington, Oregon, and California red has been a fool’s errand. Workers are rejecting the Freedom Foundation as a cog in the extremist, right-wing machine.
The Freedom Foundation and their funders just don’t get it. Working families want — and are demanding — higher wages, pensions, affordable health care, and increased funding for education. We know that organizing and standing together is the best way to help our families and our communities.
The Freedom Foundation and their billionaire allies may have deep pockets, but their failures over the past five years make it clear that their money is no match for the power of working people.
While it’s important to remain vigilant, one year after the Janus decision, working families have plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about the future of the labor movement.
Desperate Republican Super-Minority in Oregon a sign of the Freedom Foundation’s Miserable FailureJune 22, 2019
The Republican State Senate in Oregon recently fled the state to avoid taking a vote on a bill combating climate change. The Oregon State Police have been deployed to retrieve the Senators and they are likely to face fines of $500 per day (as of the writing of this piece). Their refrain on why they are taking this drastic action: they don’t feel listened to in Salem and therefore are denying a quorum to the Democrats. In reality, this is a last-ditch effort from a Republican super minority that can’t seem to win elections and increase their presence at the Capitol in Salem. This domination by Democrats and floundering Republicans who sit on the fringe of the political spectrum has not always been the political landscape in Oregon.
This circus in Salem comes four years after an Olympia Washington based group with ties to the Koch brothers, calling themselves the Freedom Foundation or Opt-Out Today, launched a campaign in Oregon targeting unions and union members. Their idea came from the midwestern states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio and it’s pretty simple: If they could destroy unions, they could remove what they see as a major funder of Democratic candidates and causes and help right-wing Republicans get elected.
In the fall of 2014, the Freedom Foundation, under then new CEO Tom McCabe, launched their so-called “opt-out campaign” in Washington and in Oregon in the fall of 2015. They began by targeting home care workers represented by SEIU, badgering them about their union membership and trying to persuade them to stop paying union dues. Despite the organization’s tax-exempt status which strictly prohibits spending for political purposes, McCabe made it very clear that the Freedom Foundation’s mission is to win elections for Republicans in order to push the right-wing’s agenda. In 2015, McCabe wrote in a fundraising letter: “Are you tired of the Pacific Northwest being dominated by left-wing radicals?” He continued: “Freedom Foundation is leading the most aggressive push in twenty years to take back the Pacific Northwest. …the takeover of the Pacific Northwest by the Left took a lot of money and sophistication, as well as the raw determination to co-opt the region’s political machinery…The Freedom Foundation is the only group working on a region-wide basis to mount such a response. If this goal seems a little too ambitious or farfetched to you, just consider what’s happened in Wisconsin – another “blue” state, that is, until it suddenly wasn’t – where men and women of courage stepped up and took bold actions…To put it simply, the union bosses bankroll the left-wing establishment in our region…”
It is a refrain, McCabe and other Freedom Foundation leaders repeat often.
Then, just a year ago, they were gifted a decision by Donald Trump’s Supreme Court, when they ruled in Janus v AFSCME that public sector workers could receive all the benefits of the union and pay none of the dues. According to the Freedom Foundation, they expanded their outreach program to all public sector workers including teachers, nurses and social workers.
But a year since Janus, what’s clear’s is their campaign has been a massive failure. Their tactics have been reduced to spam emails and low budget social media advertising. Not only are working families doing great in Oregon and winning well-earned raises and increased benefits, but Republicans now have super minorities in the state legislature for the first time in Oregon history. In other words, the Freedom Foundation’s goal of turning Oregon into a red state is backfiring, in a big way.
The Freedom Foundation’s sales pitch of turning Oregon into a red state has been a fool’s errand from the beginning. But when you’re a Republican elected official in Oregon and so down-and-out that you would flee the state risking arrest and financial fees to avoid doing your job, you will believe anybody that’s selling you some hope, even if it’s false hope.