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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.

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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

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