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Open Letter: Washington Coalition for Open Government and their Connection to the “Freedom” Foundation

On July 21, 2020 we sent a letter to the leadership of the Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) asking them for a conflict of interest review of the dual role that Brian Minnich plays as a leader of the Washington Coalition for Open Government and the extremist, anti-worker Freedom Foundation. We will keep you updated with their response and any review undertaken by the coalition. You can read the letter below:

To: Juli Bunting and the Leadership of the Washington Coalition for Open Government
Date: July 21, 2020

Re: In the spirit of transparency, we are requesting you conduct a conflict of interest review of your board member Brian Minnich’s dual role in the WCOG and the Freedom Foundation.

The WCOG claims to advocate for transparency and responsiveness in government. We are asking that you honor those same values by conducting a full conflict-of-interest review of your board member Brian Minnich’s dual role as a leader of the WCOG and a leader of the so-called “Freedom” Foundation and present those findings to the public. Indeed, the leaders of WCOG will agree that every organization, especially ones devoted to transparency, can benefit from a periodic self-analysis.

Your corporate by-laws state:

Section 2.8 Conflicts of Interest. A conflict of interest exists if a member of the Board of Directors receives compensation from the corporation or from any third party because of his or her service as a board member. A conflict of interest also exists where a board member represents, is employed by, or owes a fiduciary duty to any party that has an interest in a matter or legal issue on which the corporation has taken or may take a position or action adverse to the corporation’s positions or the policies of the Board of Directors.

The Freedom Foundation employs WCOG board member Brian Minnich, also a “Madison Level” donor to WCOG. The Freedom Foundation has engaged in a five-year, $20 million+ failed campaign to destroy unions in the Northwest by weaponizing our Public Records Laws to keep a potentially unsecured database of union members and badger them at their homes and workplaces about their union membership. They also reportedly use the database for their fundraising and political purposes; this is hardly in the public’s interest. They and their benefactors have much to gain from the role WCOG plays in pushing for unfettered access to all personal information of all public employees with no requirement to keep that information secure. Proceeds from that fundraising then make their way back to WCOG, with Minnich as a board member overseeing the financial transactions of the organization including transactions between your two organizations.

The WCOG has taken a hard-line stance on access to public employees’ personal information, putting civil servants at risk of harassment and identity theft. Even when the Allied Newspapers of Washington and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association reached a compromise on HB1888 in the 2020 legislative session between access to public employee personal information and public employee safety, WCOG maintained their hardline against the bill. This stance was more in line with the right-wing groups in the coalition than the general public, public employees, or journalists. We were unable to find an instance where the WCOG made recommendations on keeping civil servants safe when their personal data was released even after numerous public employees testified about harrowing experiences they’ve had because of insecure personal information. One has to wonder how much the impact of your board member and funder, Brian Minnich/Freedom Foundation, or your supporters at the Washington Policy Center were driving this even though it harmed the reputation of the WCOG. The Freedom Foundation may be the only group in Washington, besides stalkers and doxxers, that held a vested interest in opposing HB 1888 after the compromise with journalists was reached. Instead of being a community group of advocates that defends the rights of Washingtonians to access a fair, just and transparent government, the WCOG has become discredited by the adverse relationship to extremist groups like the Freedom Foundation.

Your website states:

“Anyone, WCOG member or not, who perceives a potential conflict of interest within the organization should alert WCOG of their concern, and appropriate action will be taken by WCOG, if necessary.”

We are urging you to conduct a conflict-of-interest review on board member Brian Minnich. Please inform us of the timeline for this review, and please post the results publicly.

Sincerely,
Peter Starzynski
Executive Director, Northwest Accountability Project

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