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Sue Lani Madsen: On revenge and accountability

Sue Lani Madsen. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Sue Lani Madsen. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

“This will stick it to the Freedom Foundation.” Or so said a union lobbyist overheard in Olympia. It may or may not be an accurate quote, but it accurately describes House Bill 2587, cutting through legal obfuscation to accidentally tell the truth.

HB 2587 purports to be about simply adding fee disclosure requirements for special deputy prosecuting attorneys appointed by an elected county prosecutor. If services are provided pro bono, “all sources of the funding shall be provided whether donation, grant or other source.”

It would interfere with elected county prosecutors’ authority to seek specialized representation, whether the expertise is conservative or liberal. And curiously, it’s retroactive to July 2016, to the start of Lincoln County’s contact with the Freedom Foundation for defense representation for possible unfair labor practices claims. “This bill should die,” Lincoln County Prosecutor Jeff Barkdull said.

Because HB 2587 isn’t about transparency, it’s about revenge.

The pro-union Northwest Accountability Project began filing public records requests with Lincoln County after the commissioners affirmed union negotiations in open public meetings. There’s nothing wrong with promoting a pro-union point of view or fighting unwelcome change. There’s nothing wrong with requesting public records.

What’s wrong is using a 501(c)(4) organization, funded by the kind of dark money allowed by the Citizens United decision, to attack private individuals and their businesses or employers for exercising free speech. And that’s exactly what the Northwest Accountability Project has done.

In the eyes of the Northwest Accountability Project, those supporting a conservative worldview are extremists threatening “the middle class, our environment, our education, and personal freedom.” Their website demands the “Freedom Foundation must reveal their true agenda and stop lying to the public.”

Here’s the irony. The Freedom Foundation is upfront about its true agenda to “reverse the stranglehold public-sector unions have on our government.” It’s not hidden. You can find photos and contact information for all staff members on the organization’s website. They answer their phone. And they used to proudly post a list of trustees and major donors, until groups like the Northwest Accountability Project used it as a hit list.

Like creating and funding a website called Tsillan Cellars Alert, posting scary pictures and outdated information out of context, implying there are dangerous health and safety violations on the premises.

There aren’t. A letter from the Chelan Douglas County Health District made that perfectly clear shortly after the website went up in August 2016. The hidden agenda was to harass the winery’s owner, a Freedom Foundation donor. Affirmation from the health district wasn’t enough to prevent the Northwest Accountability Project from lying to the public. Eighteen months later the website is still up, still lying to the public.

They didn’t stop with a fake news website. Tsillan Cellars Alert anonymously contacted wedding and event planners, warning them not to book events at the winery. Hard-to-trace negative reviews were posted.

It’s the ultimate irony. Finding anyone to hold accountable for the Northwest Accountability Project required digging into corporate registration records with the secretary of state. Only two names appear: Kevin Rudiger, research coordinator for the Service Employees International Union, and Andrew Biviano, an attorney who recently resigned as chairman of the Spokane County Democratic Party. The physical address matches Biviano’s work address.

Biviano was surprised to hear he was still listed, saying he has not been associated with the group since mid-2017. Phone calls to Rudiger and to the contact number for the Northwest Accountability Project were not returned, nor were emails. Biviano said he became involved simply “to bring anti-union activity into the light of day … openly and transparently.”

It’s not a surprise to find unions and Democrats behind a pushback to an avowedly anti-union and conservative political effort. That’s a debate worth having.

It’s disappointing when the Freedom Foundation no longer lists supporters, but it’s understandable given the pro-union’s track record of malicious retaliation and intimidation against private individuals. It’s why unions are supporting HB 2587 to demand disclosure of donors.

The 2018 midterm elections will be a test of voter discernment to stick it to fake news sources. Forget following the money. Can you find a real human being to hold accountable for the message?


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