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An Open Letter to the Board of Directors of the Washington Coalition for Open Government and Executive Director Juli Bunting

We’re calling on the Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) to restore their own credibility and break ties with extremist groups that are pushing a hateful and divisive agenda.

While WCOG works to defend and strengthen citizen access to their government, groups like the “Freedom” Foundation and Washington Policy Center have weaponized our laws for hateful partisan motives. Even though they have been a massive failure, these un-democratic operations have no place on the board or advisory council of WCOG if it wants to maintain any credibility. They are so desperate they have resorted to attacking first responders during the pandemic while joining the conspiracy theorists to push to reopen our states prematurely and put workers at risk.

We need your help to send a clear message. Can we count on you to send your own message to WCOG leaders using our action tool? Click here to send an email now. 

Here is our letter to the board members of WCOG and its Executive Director, Juli Bunting:

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We recognize that the Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) has a rich history working to defend and strengthen citizens’ access to government information that should legitimately be public and defending the intent of Washington’s Public Records Act (WA PRA). We agree that an engaged public is in the best interest of all Americans and that elected government officials should be responsive to their constituents.

But in this time when our democracy, in WCOG’s own words, is “becoming a toxic stew of hyper-partisanship,” we’re disheartened to see your coalition’s admirable and nonpartisan mission hijacked by two of the most deceptive and underhanded organizations in the Northwest. As evidenced by their ally’s and their own past support for anti-democratic initiatives, if these organizations ever achieved their goal of turning Washington into a “red” state, they would likely clamp down on the very laws the WCOG is promoting as a means for them to retain power.

We urge you to cut ties with the “Freedom” Foundation and the Washington Policy Center (WPC) and restore the credibility of the Washington Coalition for Open Government.

The Freedom Foundation is a political organization with the mission of destroying unions to more easily elect right-wing candidates and enact policies to keep wages low, eliminate paid sick leave, and slash crucial funding for quality education. In this work, they’ve worked with fringe figures including white nationalist Patriot Prayer leader Joey Nations and violent extremist, Rep. Matt Shea.

Most recently, and most shamefully, they have been trying to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic for political gain. They have actually attacked frontline workers including firefighters and healthcare workers at their homes just because they’re union members. This shameful tactic was quickly rebuked by Washington’s Firefighters. Two of their outreach staff have spread misinformation online and mocked public workers trying to fight the pandemic and their leadership have tried to get politicians to destroy unions during the pandemic. All of this nauseating behavior is being carried out under the management of Brian Minnich, a WCOG board member.

The WPC is another dark money organization. They are trying to privatize public education, keep wages low, and reduce Washingtonians’ access to health care. WPC has close ties to the “Freedom” Foundation — they’re frequent political collaborators and are both members of the Koch brothers-funded State Policy Network.

The State Policy Network and its affiliates have been involved in some of the most blatantly undemocratic initiatives of the last decade, including funding lawsuits and pushing legislation to deny citizens their voting rights including a current fight in Wisconsin that would deny voting access to hundreds of thousands of citizens. The “Freedom” Foundation worked to pass so-called “voter ID” laws in Washington which have been used nationally to restrict access to the ballot for low-income voters and communities of color.

Many SPN groups have also been at the center of the so-called “reopen” rallies that would put healthcare workers and other frontline workers at greater risk.

Hypocritically, the “Freedom” Foundation has made every attempt to keep their own organization from being transparent including keeping their donors’ identities secret. They’re so “dark” they don’t even disclose their board members, also in violation of IRS laws. Earlier this year they went so far as testifying before the IRS in favor of less transparency for their tax-benefited donors. Additionally, they have been caught regularly lying to journalists, including reporters at the Seattle Times (a WCOG donor) and Marketplace.

Under the guise of “transparency,” the Freedom Foundation and WPC weaponize public records requests to collect the names and personal information of public employee union members, putting them at risk for harassment and identity theft. This flies in the face of the original intent of the WA PRA. Their interest in “open government” and “transparency” is strictly limited to information that will help them more efficiently harass and mislead organized workers and further their political agenda. Their staff uses the information they gather to badger union members, sometimes at their homes. We have received reports that “Freedom” Foundation has lied about who they are to workers they approach, claiming to be affiliated with the union. In several instances, they even used a union’s name in the signatory line of an email in what was likely an attempt to deceive and confuse the recipients.

The appearance of the Freedom Foundation and WPC’s involvement in WCOG detracts from the important work your organization does, tainting it with partisanship, hypocrisy, and ultimately a lack of transparency. By hiding behind WCOG, these groups are able to more easily justify lying to journalists, weakening democracy, and putting private citizens in danger of harassment.

We’re urging you to see through their rhetoric. Cut ties with them and restore credibility to your important coalition to uphold the ideals of a responsive and open government.

In the meantime, the Northwest Accountability Project will continue to educate the public and other stakeholders about the “Freedom” Foundation and WPC’s anti-transparency agenda and their abuse of the WCOG.

Sincerely,
Peter Starzynski
Executive Director, Northwest Accountability Project

Another Major Defeat for Anti-Union Groups in Oregon

Last week, right-wing anti-union groups suffered another resounding defeat in Oregon as State Senator Shemia Fagan, backed by most of the state’s public sector workers, won the Democratic endorsement for Oregon Secretary of State in a remarkable grassroots victory. In this election, Oregon’s public workers proved again that by joining together in a union, working families can have an overwhelming voice in politics.

Fagan declaring victory was not a simple process, however. The Oregonian, one of the leading newspapers in Oregon, which has a reputation for bias against public-sector unions, called the race prematurely on election night for one of Fagan’s opponents, State Senator Mark Hass, even with tens of thousands of votes left to be counted. The newspaper’s declaration appeared to revel in a defeat for public sector workers, with headlines like the one below. It still has not been removed, even after Fagan was announced the victor a few days later.

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But it was a more embarrassing election for anti-union groups like the so-called “Freedom” Foundation. They launched their anti-union campaign more than six years ago, wasting more than $20 million trying to take away the political voice of public sector workers. Their goal: turn Oregon into a “red” state. But their defeats keep piling up. Fagan’s victory is a clear demonstration that they have accomplished nothing in Oregon.

Even as the “Freedom” Foundation continues to pave their path to irrelevance,  Senator Fagan’s victory was remarkable for other reasons. She joined the race six months after her opponents and rode to victory on a groundswell of support from public sector workers. Her campaign epitomized grassroots democracy in action.

Many right-wingers in Oregon don’t like working people having a voice in politics, because they know that when workers are united they are stronger than big corporate interests and their billionaire-benefiting, anti-union agendas. For a little while on election night, allies of the uber-rich like the “Freedom” Foundation thought they had a victory, but are now forced to lick their wounds yet again.

How demoralizing it must be to blow $20 million+ and remain empty-handed, year after year.

Failing “Freedom” Foundation Dishonors First Responders, Calls Firefighters Liars

This week, the “Freedom” Foundation slid deeper into degeneracy as it blasted out deceptive “phishing” emails to firefighters about their union membership while downplaying the severity of the global pandemic. With these latest deplorable tactics, the fringe, right-wing organization has crept farther into the margins of decency, and closer to the dead-end of their already floundering mission.

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These are not the first reports of the anti-worker “Freedom” Foundation harassing Washington’s first responders. Earlier this month, firefighters in Southwest Washington were badgered at their homes just because they are union members.

“Freedom” Foundation talking head Aaron Withe responded by accusing the firefighters of lying: “I believe they’re being dishonest about we’re contacting firefighters, because we’ve never done it.” Not surprisingly, it turns out Withe was the one doing the lying to an Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter, as reports came out today from King County Paramedics that their assault on first responders continues.

While Withe was busy lying to the press, his cohort Maxford Nelsen was busy debasing the memory of Washingtonians who have tragically died this year from COVID-19. By releasing a “report” downplaying the severity of COVID-19, they accomplished their goal of getting attention in right-wing conspiracy theory circles, a group that is, unfortunately, growing and mainstreaming. Nelsen, the so-called Labor Director at the “Freedom” Foundation, callously treated the deceased, and their mourning families, like chess pieces in a ploy for political attention. Nelsen was appropriately rebuked by Governor Jay Inslee as misguided and grotesque.

The “Freedom” Foundation has spent more than $20 million trying and failing to destroy unions on the West Coast so they can implement their extreme, right-wing agenda. These latest immoral tactics show just how low they’re willing to go to get their funders’ attention. Their continued disrespect for essential workers and the lives of fallen Washingtonians is a fitting explanation for why their mission here is in shambles.

Desperate for Attention, the Anti-Worker “Freedom” Foundation Joins the Deep State Conspiracy Club

On May 18, the Freedom Foundation publicly joined the cult of right-wing COVID-19 conspiracy theories by releasing a “study” that accuses Washington State of inflating deaths from the disease. Their claim joins the bandwagon of similar unsubstantiated cries from around the dark web, like seasoned conspiracy theorist David Icke, who also happens to believe the world is controlled by a cabal of “reptilian elites.”

Extremist QAnon enthusiasts have also welcomed the failed anti-union group’s accusation online, as it echoes their contention that this pandemic is really just a “Deep State” plot to damage Trump’s chance at re-election. (As if he’s not doing enough on his own.)

These pandemic conspiracies cooked up by attention-hungry zealots would be laughable if they weren’t also endangering lives. In their bid for approval from the right-wing conspiracy mob, the “Freedom” Foundation is dangerously downplaying the pandemic. Their deceptive message, sent from the safety of their home computers, shows utter disrespect for the essential workers who stayed on the job and paid the ultimate price while so many of us sheltered in place.

A correctional officer with over 17 years of experience at the Monroe Correctional Complex died May 17th due to complications from COVID-19.  In Oregon, where more than 500 health care workers have contracted COVID-19, a 30-year food service worker at OHSU hospital died from the disease. The danger in the workplace is real and present.

Governor Inslee and state agencies are working diligently to span the gap between public health and economic prosperity as our state gradually re-opens. When told about these latest accusations, Gov. Inslee dismissed them as misguided and grotesque:

“The problem is you’ve got some people out there who are fanning these conspiracy claims from the planet Pluto. And it’s just disgusting what they’re trying to say [with] all of this crazy Deep State malarkey [and] are trying to suggest that this is not a problem in our state. I find that hard to accept with the number of dead in our state.” 

The “Freedom” Foundation has spent more than $20 million trying and failing to destroy unions on the West Coast so they can implement their extreme, right-wing agenda. Now they’ve resorted to parroting conspiracy theories from extremist circles to attract press coverage, in hopes their billionaire benefactors keep sending checks. This is just their latest attempt at exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic. By spreading a dangerous hoax, the failing group is clearly disregarding the safety and welfare of workers in favor of the political agenda of a few billionaires. Shameful.

Center for Media and Democracy Exposes the Right-Wing Billionaires Pulling the Freedom Foundation’s Strings

The desperate Freedom Foundation has failed to accomplish its goal along the West Coast of defunding labor unions and enacting an extreme, right-wing agenda. In fact, California just reported the largest increase in union members in 7 years and all three states on the West Coast have tripartite pro-union control in the Governor’s office and legislature. While the Freedom Foundation has already failed miserably, what they do seem to excel at is wasting money. A lot of money. In fact, they have spent more than $20 million of their donors’ money on this failed campaign over the last five years, and thanks to an article by David Armiak of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), we know more about the donors fueling their train wreck of a strategy.

A few common threads run through the donors of the failing union busters. They have hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal, they prioritize corporate interests over workers’ rights, and their money is shuttled to the Northwest from far, far away. In addition, these donors have also funded other noxious causes like recriminalizing the LGBTQ community, anti-immigrant groups, and the so-called “godfather” of the modern-day white supremacy movement, Charles Murray. Here are a few of their largest donors:

  • More than 2000 miles away from the Pacific Northwest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is the Bradley Foundation They have a nearly $900 million dollar war chest and have sent $2.9 million to the Freedom Foundation according to CMD. Their goal: to “defund and dismantle labor unions as part of a national strategy to cripple progressive and Democratic causes while building a pro-Republican infrastructure in the states.”
  • The Charles Koch Foundation, a familiar name in dark money circles and headquartered in Arlington, VA (more than 2800 miles away from the Pacific Northwest) has donated $275,000 to the Freedom Foundation. As Armiak reports, “Over the years, Koch has heavily invested in right-wing groups that have supported so-called right-to-work laws and demonized collective bargaining rights.”
  • From Pittsburgh, PA (more than 2500 miles away from the Pacific Northwest), the $800 million Sarah Scaife Foundation sent the Freedom Foundation $350,000. In addition to exporting union-busting grants, this right-wing fund has also vigorously supported anti-immigrant groups like the Center for Immigration Studies and anti-Muslim hate group Center for Security Policy.

The anti-worker “Freedom” Foundation has spent more than $20 million trying and failing to destroy unions on the West Coast to help regressive, right-wing candidates win elections. They’re dancing to the fiddle of these funders from thousands of miles away, who just don’t understand how strongly the West Coast supports its workers and their unions. The Freedom Foundation may be keeping its staff checking accounts padded with donor money for now, but the truth is obvious – a failure is still a failure, even when it cost way too much.

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