FreedomWorks Putting Its War Chest to Work for ALEC’s Union-Busting Agenda in the States
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The Tea Party-affiliated group FreedomWorks -- the right-wing organization that helps connect “Tea Party” groups with talking points, rallies, and more -- is gearing up to direct its sizeable war chest towards advancing anti-union initiatives in the states, supporting an agenda set by groups like David Koch's Americans for Prosperity and the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This strongly suggests that the battle for the future of private and public sector unions in America is beginning a new phase of combat.
This month, FreedomWorks announced "an aggressive grassroots, state-based campaign" for 2013 to "push back against domineering unions," among other plans. The group has been in the midst of turmoil in recent months with former House Majority Leader Dick Armey abruptly resigning after the 2012 elections, in part because of concerns about the ethics of FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe. In the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s strong showing in battleground states where union members turned out in large numbers against Mitt Romney, Kibbe is apparently prioritizing anti-union advocacy.
Unions have been under attack since the 2010 elections swept new Republican majorities into statehouses across the country. Starting in early 2011, states like Wisconsin and Ohio passed legislation to restrict collective bargaining rights for public sector employees (although Ohio citizens were able to reverse one of the most pernicious bills via referendum), and in late 2012, the Michigan legislature rushed a "right to work" bill into law during the lame duck session.
So-called right to work laws undermine collective bargaining by allowing some employees to free ride when the union uses the collective power of workers to negotiate wages, raises, and other benefits with managers. Under right to work laws, employees can get these benefits while opting-out of paying the costs, which groups like FreedomWorks have spun as "workplace freedom." Much of the anti-union legislation introduced since the 2010 elections can be traced to "model" bills from ALEC, after legislators who attended the December 2010 ALEC meeting embraced the right to work agenda that had stalled decades earlier.
CMD identified how Michigan's right to work measure, for example, was almost identical to the ALEC model. More recently, Progress Missouri identified how ALEC legislators in that state have introduced another right to work proposal that closely resembles the ALEC "model" Right to Work Act.
ALEC legislators have also been buoyed by support for these measures from groups like David Koch's Americans for Prosperity. After a number of Republicans were defeated in federal races, FreedomWorks now appears to have made anti-union legislation in the states a priority for 2013.
Leaked Documents Show Record Fundraising, Internal Coordination
As details about the power struggle within FreedomWorks emerged in December -- with a wealthy donor who secretly gave $12 million to the Freedomworks Super PAC buying Armey's silence about Kibbe's ethical issues until after the election via an $8 million "consulting" contract - internal board documents leaked to Mother Jones showed that $33 million of the $41 million raised by the group through mid-December came in the form of five-and six-figure checks, contradicting the notion that FreedomWorks is at its core a "grassroots" organization (even though it has been increasing its small-donor base).
According to the leaked documents, FreedomWorks' fundraising surged in 2012, largely thanks to the group's Super PAC, FreedomWorks for America, which raised $23 million.
Federal law requires a group like FreedomWorks to have segregated accounting for its Super PAC, charitable, and nonprofit wings. But Kibbe reported to the board a single $42 million in "consolidated" revenue for 2012, combining funds raised by the FreedomWorks for America Super PAC, the 501(c)(3) charity Freedomworks Foundation, and the 501(c)(4) Freedomworks, Inc. (The group has also shifted millions between its 501(c)(4) and Super PAC in 2012, effectively hiding the identity of the true donor).