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Why the Freedom Foundation Fell out of Love With ‘Transparency’

The anti-worker Freedom Foundation reached new heights of self-contradiction recently (already an incredibly high bar) in signing onto a letter opposing a government transparency bill. A closer look at their “change of heart” on transparency shows them scrambling to conceal their funders’ directives while waxing poetic about the virtues of transparency against unions. For anyone new to the Freedom Foundation, this hypocrisy may seem stunning. To the Northwest Accountability Project it’s just another day at the office tracking far-right extremist organizations.

When we last checked in on the Freedom Foundation (aka Opt Out Today) staff, they were extolling the virtues of ‘transparent’ bargaining sessions in Spokane County in a failed attempt to bust local unions. Now they’re protesting congressional bill H.R. 1, also called For the People Act 2019, which, among other things like protecting voting rights and gerrymandering reform, seeks to increase transparency in federal politics and strengthen ethics rules.

Freedom Foundation talking head Ashley Varner calls H.R. 1 “chilling” and “Orwellian.”It’s easy to see what spooked them, and why they’ve changed their tune about the concept of transparency. Under new regulations in H.R. 1, shadowy front groups like the Freedom Foundation may need to start disclosing their donors and more accurately label online advertising, pure Kryptonite to a group like theirs.

Largely funded by an out-of-state web of dark money billionaires, the Freedom Foundation would be forced to pull all the skeletons out of their closet. Increasing transparency would make public their links to the anti-climate science Koch Brothers’ DonorsTrust, the anti-worker Bradley Foundation and shared funding with bigoted hate-groups in the State Policy Network, just for starters.

Varner also complains that H.R. 1 would require the Freedom Foundation to more rigorously disclose their advertising to the public. Considering the Freedom Foundation has a long, sordid history of deception and violating the law, including fines from the Washington Attorney General for campaign finance violations, we can see why they tremble at the thought of increased transparency and accountability.

Congressional bill H.R. 1 was created to strengthen ethics rules in American politics while also increasing government transparency. And it has groups like the Freedom Foundation shaking in their boots. They were all in on transparency when they could use it as a weapon against unions, but now the tables have turned. By protesting this bill, and the transparency it would bring, the Freedom Foundation takes their duplicity to a new level, further demonstrating they care more about their billionaire funders’ mission than working families in the Northwest.  

The Failures of Charlie Conner

Our organization has written previously about Charlie Conner, the sole owner and president of Conner Homes (based in Bellevue, Washington) and long-term board member of the right-wing Freedom Foundation. While we already questioned Conner’s business savviness based on the company he keeps (not a great business move to be connected to extremist groups like the Freedom Foundation in Washington), additional digging on his business only further proved this point.

From several lawsuits filed by unhappy customers furious about poor quality homes, to foreclosures by banks where he has borrowed money, to blowing thousands on failed political candidates, Charlie Conner’s record as a business owner shows a history of poor judgement and bad decisions.

Here are the facts:

No stranger to foreclosures, Conner saw banks seize huge tracts of land from his company for lack of payment on loans he took out. Bank of America foreclosed on an incomplete Conner property in Bothell, leaving the other half to the families that had already moved in.

Venture Bank foreclosed on another property when Conner fell behind $300,000 on the $6.3 million loan. A few months later, Venture Bank was seized by state regulators for lack of capital caused by large loan and investment losses. In response to the foreclosure, Conner said breezily, “I decided that property wasn’t worth what I put into it … I said, ‘I can’t make the payments anymore — I’ll just take my haircut.’”

It’s not just funders and lenders that Conner has let down. A public records search shows a string of lawsuits from his own customers, alleging substantial defects and deficiencies in construction. Homeowners at a Conner Homes development in Kirkland, WA alleged that Conner had failed to address problems and that as a result of the damage “some or all of the units may be uninhabitable.”

Conner was also sued by the Meydenbauer Bay Condominium Owners Association who alleged that the company had breached warranties with “various construction defects, including but not limited to water intrusion problems.”

Additionally, Conner has tried his hand at helping politicians get elected. As with his foreclosed properties and incensed customers, it hasn’t gone well. He gave campaign money to fellow Freedom Foundation board member Michael Appleby, who was running for state representative. Appleby lost, with a meager 34% of the vote. Conner also gave money to Dino Rossi, a five-time election loser, infamous for proposing the cutting of Medicaid benefits to 40,000 children in Washington.

With his history of defaulting on loans, angering customers and donating to failed politicians, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Charlie Conner’s Freedom Foundation is failing, too. With the new statistics showing Washington has the lowest union withdrawal rate in the nation, the union-busting Freedom Foundation has a lot of explaining to do. If their donors take a closer look at Charlie Conner’s performance record elsewhere, it may help clarify the problem.

Fueled by millions of dollars from out-of-state corporate interests, the Freedom Foundation and their director Charlie Conner have, quite simply, botched the job. The new numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that union membership grew 10% last year in Washington state. On top of that, only 3.3% of workers covered by a union contract in Washington have declined to become full dues-paying members in this state, the lowest in the country.  

Seems Charlie and the Freedom Foundation may have some explaining to do to their funders.



NWAP Files Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) Complaint Against Glen Morgan and his PAC, We the Governed, for Willful Violations of State Campaign Finance Laws

Washington – The Northwest Accountability Project (NWAP) has filed a PDC complaint against Glen Morgan and his PAC, We the Governed for failure to disclose ANY of its political activity since its formation in 2016. The NWAP is alleging that We the Governed has solicited funds for overt political activities without proper disclosure as outlined by the state’s Fair Practices Campaign Act.

“The PDC should hold Mr. Morgan accountable for his willful violations of Washington State law,” said Peter Starzynski, Executive Director of the Northwest Accountability Project, a watchdog organization that closely tracks extremist groups in the Northwest like the anti-union Freedom Foundation and the Washington Policy Center.

Glen Morgan, a former staffer at the Freedom Foundation is very familiar with the PDC. He is perhaps most well-known for filing hundreds of frivolous PDC complaints against left-leaning candidates and local Democratic parties.

“It’s somewhat ironic that Mr. Morgan himself has so egregiously violated state law given his history of utilizing the PDC for his own political purposes. Someone who knows the PDC as well as Mr. Morgan should also know the law,” Starzynski continued. “I think it shows that he knowingly violated the law in a malicious and willful manner. These violations can’t be accidental.”

The complaint alleges that Mr. Morgan never submitted ANY of the proper disclosure forms to the PDC since he created We the Governed PAC in 2016. Those allegations include failure to disclose any of the funds he solicited for political purposes, failure to disclose expenditures on any of their endorsed candidates at every level of state and local government or any of the ballot measures they have campaigned for or against.

The NWAP believes the serious nature of these actions warrants referral to the Attorney General.  The severity of the violations committed by Mr. Morgan and We the Governed warrant penalties greater than the maximum the PDC is authorized to impose.

The PDC has assigned the complaint, ticket #47250.

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The Northwest Accountability Project is a social welfare organization dedicated to shining a light on extremism and the moneyed special interests that attempt to bring an agenda of hate and division to the Northwest. 



Op-ed: Spokane County commissioners anti-labor resolution waste of taxpayers dollars

Originally posted by The Spokesman-Review at spokesman.com on Feb. 9, 2019.

By Peter Starzynski

In December, two of the three Spokane County commissioners approved a resolution that could change the way the county conducts collective bargaining sessions with its employees. Commissioners Al French and Josh Kerns approved the resolution, which was authored by a fringe political group from Olympia that calls itself the Freedom Foundation.

In December, two of the three Spokane County commissioners approved a resolution that could change the way the county conducts collective bargaining sessions with its employees. Commissioners Al French and Josh Kerns approved the resolution, which was authored by a fringe political group from Olympia that calls itself the Freedom Foundation.

What the commissioners may not have realized is that the resolution is effectively dead on arrival and the whole process has been a waste of county resources. Earlier in 2018, the Washington Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), the state body that governs public employee/employer relations including collective bargaining, ruled that a prerequisite to bargaining is itself a condition and therefore an unfair labor practice, rendering these resolutions illegal. For the good of Spokane citizens, the commissioners should be more careful about whose guidance they follow in the future.

The Freedom Foundation is an anti-union organization from Western Washington that is funded by out-of-state billionaires. A member of the State Policy Network, they’re part of a nationwide effort to strip public workers of their power to organize for better wages, benefits and job security. Not surprisingly, this web of anti-worker organizations across the country is funded by corporate billionaires who want to shift the power away from employees and back in their favor. Most well-known among the funders are the infamous Charles and David Koch.

In 2016, the Freedom Foundation lobbied neighboring Lincoln County to pass a similar resolution, providing a template from which the resolution was written. The Lincoln County resolution was later ruled an unfair labor practice by the PERC. One attorney involved worried the commissioners were “unwitting pawns” of the Freedom Foundation, considering what lengths the Freedom Foundation was going to in pushing the resolution. In passing a similar resolution that could also end up ruled an unfair labor practice, the Spokane County commissioners have just wasted countless hours and taxpayer resources.

How did Commissioners French and Kerns come to ally with a job-killing group like the Freedom Foundation? The common link is county staffer Ron Valencia. Most recently he worked as a fundraiser for the Freedom Foundation, but now works as assistant to the Spokane County commissioners. This bizarre conflict of interest needs more examination by the public, and all records involving Valencia’s role in passing the resolutions and conversations he’s had with Freedom Foundation should be made public.

Central to the Freedom Foundation’s strategy is investing heavily in misleading propaganda. They proclaim themselves the champion of unionized workers, but their real mission is made crystal clear in a guidebook they helped author that was a step-by-step manual on how to paralyze governments, privatize public sector jobs and decimate worker pay and benefits. They have collected thousands of public employees’ personal data, including home addresses and work email addresses, to badger them about their union membership. To fully understand their disdain for public employees and their unions, look no further than their silence during the federal government shutdown, which left hundreds of thousands of public servants locked out of their jobs and without paychecks.

In regard to Spokane County politics and collective bargaining, the Freedom Foundation and their allies may throw out words like “transparency” and “openness,” but the reality is much darker – the Freedom Foundation wants to destroy well- paying public sector jobs in Spokane County.

For example, the Spokane County resolution pushed by the Freedom Foundation promises more transparency in negotiating with employee unions. This is more Freedom Foundation hollow wordplay, considering all employee union contracts are submitted and voted upon by the commissioners at a public meeting, where all are welcome. In other words, the collective bargaining contracts are already transparent and open.

The entire process of pushing through the new resolution in Spokane County has been marred by mysterious insider lobbying and deceptive propaganda, while also wasting time and taxpayer money. All to follow the lead of a fringe political group that wants to gut local jobs, benefits and wages. If their true goal is to better the lives of Spokane County families, the commissioners need to think twice about who guides their policy.

Teachers Triumph, Freedom Foundation Falters Again in California

After a historic six-day strike, Los Angeles teachers scored a major victory for working people and the nation’s public education system. Teachers in the country’s second-largest school system reached an agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District on Tuesday that includes reduced class sizes, mandated support staff, raises for educators, and a pathway to cap corporate-funded charter schools.

This momentous achievement remains a direct result of the collective action of tens of thousands of educators and allies who braved uncharacteristically poor L.A. weather in a massive display of solidarity against the billionaire-funded assault on public education. This triumph is the latest in a nationwide wave of teacher activism and, rest assured, as working people flex their collective muscle for the greater good, there’s one organization that is none too pleased: the Freedom Foundation.

The Freedom Foundation’s campaigns in the Northwest have proven massive failures, wasting millions of their funders’ dollars while inadvertently boosting union membership in states like Washington. As their ineffectiveness in the Northwest became increasingly clear, the Freedom Foundation turned the attention of their failed “Opt Out Today” campaign to states like Vermont and Massachusetts through digital advertising. When it became clear that Los Angeles teachers would strike, the Freedom Foundation and their cohorts at the Koch-funded State Policy Network fixated on the Golden State and attempted to undermine striking teachers.

The California Policy Center, one of the state’s State Policy Network affiliates and ally of the Freedom Foundation, put up billboards badgering teachers about their union membership while Freedom Foundation staffers took to the L.A. Times to propagate their billionaire-funded agenda. Both organizations ran Facebook ads and a plethora of other social media posts aimed at causing division amongst striking educators. These tactics aren’t new for the anti-worker network; the Freedom Foundation has a history of actively trying to undermine striking teachers, including sending staffer Jami Lund to Oklahoma during the state’s 2018 teachers’ strike.

In their L.A. Times op-ed, Freedom Foundation vice president of operations Bob Wickers joined their California outreach director Sam Coleman to push a style of collective bargaining that they think will undermine unions. It’s something they have been pushing for years in Washington State and something the Washington Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) already ruled illegal. After failing in their home state, the Freedom Foundation seized on the opportunity of the L.A. strike to sow seeds of division and push their nonstarter policy initiative.

As long as working people are organized and fighting for the betterment of their communities, you can count on the national network of billionaire-funded front groups to show up in opposition. The Los Angeles strike was as much a fervent defense of public education as it was a movement to improve conditions for students and workers. The rapid expansion of unregulated, corporate-funded charter schools in Los Angeles is a direct result of a privatization campaign led by a small group of wealthy donors, including major State Policy Network funders like the Walton Family. Charter schools are predominately unorganized (for now). By bankrolling their expansion, billionaire donors see an opportunity to erode the power of unions and their support for pro-worker, pro-education policies. As the stated mission of the State Policy Network and the Freedom Foundation is to take away the power of organized workers and “defund and defang” unions, their support for charter schools falls right in line with their agenda.

The success of the L.A. teachers strike once again proved the power of working people. It also proved the Freedom Foundation is desperate to undermine workers whenever and wherever they unite. As they are wont to do, the Freedom Foundation and their partners once again failed.

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