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State officials, union desperately fight to silence think tank

The Freedom Foundation is under attack by the Service Employees International Union, a key union in Washington state, and state government officials. (Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)

The Freedom Foundation — a nonprofit think tank supporting “opportunity, responsible self-governance, and free markets” — is under attack by the Service Employees International Union, a key union in Washington state, and state government officials. The union and Washington state government claim the Freedom Foundation is violating the union’s rights by working to inform citizens caught up in a Medicare “scam” they have a right to opt out of being in the union or avoid paying mandated fees.

According to Michael Hartmann at the Capital Research Center, the scheme the Freedom Foundation is fighting against works like this:

“First, invent a state shell corporation which you as governor claim is the ‘employer’ of persons who receive state Medicare payments to care for disabled loved ones. Then have a mail-in ‘election’ in which few persons receiving payments even realized what is happening. Finally, no matter how few persons who received mail-in ballots ever vote on whether to be unionized, declare that the union has won the election, which means every single payment-recipient is now an SEIU member and so must have union dues automatically deducted from the state payment.”

Hartmann calls this set-up a “scam,” and the Freedom Foundation has been working to undermine this system since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that individual providers like those receiving Medicare funds to care for loved ones in Washington state can’t be forced to join a union or pay administrative fees. To combat this, the Freedom Foundation has worked to inform as many of these providers as possible that they have the right to opt out of paying any fees to SEIU, and it claims it has helped about 10,000 people in Washington state succeed in keeping more of their own benefits, costing SEIU close to $10 million, according to Freedom Foundation’s estimates.

Freedom Foundation estimates individual providers pay $500 to $1,000 per year to SEIU, giving the union roughly $25 million per year in Washington state alone.

To stop the tremendous losses SEIU has endured as a result of the Freedom Foundation’s efforts, SEIU filed three lawsuits against the Freedom Foundation in September 2016, and according to the Freedom Foundation, which now has a team of legal experts working full time to battle the claims against it, its small office has been overwhelmed with numerous legal requests, including depositions and subpoenas. The Freedom Foundation says it has paid more than $1.4 million in legal fees to defend its right to inform people they don’t need to join a union.

But the trouble hasn’t stopped there, as Hartmann reported for CRC. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed lawsuits against the Freedom Foundation as well, alleging the group has, among other things, violated campaign-finance laws for offering free legal assistance to citizens working to get right-to-work protections passed at the municipal level and for allegedly failing to report staff expenditures on the correct government form.

Ferguson, like many of his Democratic Party allies in Washington state, is heavily financed by unions, including SEIU. According to a review by The Blaze of Ferguson’s campaign financial disclosures, provided by Followthemoney.org, general trade unions provided more than $157,000 in campaign donations to Ferguson during the 2012 and 2016 election cycles and public-sector unions provided more than $79,000. Thousands of dollars were given by local SEIU chapters alone. According to Followthemoney.org, “general trade unions” was the second most important “industry” for Ferguson’s campaigns, behind only “lawyers and lobbyists.”

In addition to facing numerous lawsuits meant to silence the Freedom Foundation, the organization could be faced with an even larger roadblock. In November, voters in Washington state passed Ballot Initiative 1501, deceptively titled the Seniors and Vulnerable Individuals’ Safety and Financial Crimes Prevention Act. Passed by a wide margin by voters who believed the measure was meant to help protect seniors from being mistreated, Ballot Initiative 1501 amends the state’s Public Records Act, making it virtually impossible to obtain certain kinds of public records, including union membership lists.

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The Freedom Foundation had previously won court battles to have the right to obtain union membership lists so that it could notify people of their rights, but Ballot Initiative 1501, which is now being challenged by the Freedom Foundation in court on the basis that it is not constitutional, would make that virtually impossible. Unsurprisingly, SEIU was Ballot Initiative 1501’s biggest supporter, providing $1.9 million to the cause, almost all of the campaign’s funding, according to a report by National Review.

The Editorial Board of the left-leaning Seattle Times said Ballot Initiative 1501 is a “Trojan horse” of the worst kind.

“I-1501 is a Trojan horse,” the board wrote. “It’s being run by a deep-pocketed special-interest group that wants to weaken the state Public Records Act, reducing the people’s access to government records.”

David Dewhirst, the Freedom Foundation’s litigation counsel, told National Review if Ballot Initiative 1501 is not thrown out by the courts, unions’ power in the state will be greatly expanded and freedom of speech will be limited.

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