The Economic Policy Institute released a report today detailing the network of conservative mega-donors supporting the Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME and previous cases attacking union “fair share” fees, the end of which could devastate organized labor in the U.S.
The EPI report meticulously details the identities of the right-wing organizations directly funding the case, along with previous cases that have chipped away at fair share fees. Those fees are collected by unions from non-members who are nonetheless represented by the union—which means the union has to bargain collectively on their behalf, represent them in instances of abuse, and all the other good, worthwhile shit unions do that cost money. The fees are supposed to eliminate “free riders”: if you can get all the benefits of being in a union without paying dues, many people will choose to do just that. Fair share fees cannot be spent on union political activity.
Our colleague Hamilton Nolan previously reported that some of the shittiest billionaire-funded right-wing organizations, like the State Policy Network, have been conducting a deeply creepy propaganda campaign on behalf of the plaintiffs, complete with rallies and Orwellian talking points. The State Policy Network has been agitating against unions for years, and is tied to the Koch brothers and ALEC.
The institute found that “a core group of foundations with ties to the largest and most powerful lobbies representing corporate interests” have been funding the case, through various, more innocuous-sounding intermediary groups like the Center for Individual Rights and the Liberty Justice Center. The Liberty Justice Center, in fact, is representing the plaintiff in the case itself. Who could oppose liberty AND justice?
But, as it turns out, per EPI:
The Liberty Justice Center (LJC) is the legal arm of an Illinois-based conservative think tank called the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI). A review of LJC and IPI’s 990s provides a limited view of their financial profile, but it is clear that they survive off of the same core group of corporate-backed organizations that contribute to many political and legal fights against unions. Donors Trust, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, Dunn’s Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking, and the Charles Koch Institute have supported the Illinois Policy Institute and Liberty Justice Center.
Both the Bradleys and the Uihleins are huge conservative donors; the Bradley Foundation is worth more than $900 million.
The report also details the funders behind previous anti-union Supreme Court cases, like the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which was also funded by the Bradleys, the Uilheins, and the Walton Family foundation. It is an incredibly complicated mess of horrible rich people. Just take the Dunn’s Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking. According to EPI:
The foundation was founded by William A. Dunn in 1994 to advocate for and fund libertarian causes. William A. Dunn is the founder of Dunn Capital Management in Florida, which has over $1 billion in assets under management, and seems to be the main source of the foundation’s assets. The Dunns have given millions to the Institute for Justice, the Pacific Legal Foundation, and the Landmark Legal Foundation. Since 2000, the foundation has also given well over $60 million to conservative groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and the Reason Foundation.
If this is confusing, that’s because it’s meant to be. These shady dark money schemes usually run through multiple organizations, with big donors spreading their money out between several, even dozens of linked organizations, or through a fund like the Donors Trust. That muddies the waters, making it hard to explain the money trail without the reader’s eyes glazing over, let alone provide a definitive answer as to who is masterminding and spearheading any given campaign. Is it Lynde Bradley, or Ed Uilhein, or Charles Koch? There can be no one enemy. The network is terrifying—a mega-conservative powerhouse with its tentacles in almost every aspect of American public policy—but it’s also purposefully designed to spread out the blame.
The Supreme Court will begin hearing Janus on February 26.