OLYMPIA, Wash. The Freedom Foundation on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Washington's Department of Social and Health Services alleging the agency routinely violates the state's Fair Campaign Practices Act by deducting millions of dollars from government employees that find their way into political campaigns.
The money deducted by DSHS is forwarded to SEIU 775, the union representing the workers, as monthly dues. SEIU then uses millions of those dollars as political contributions.
"Under the law, an employer can't deduct money from an employee's paycheck and use it as a political contribution without the employee's written permission," explained Freedom Foundation Litigation Counsel James Abernathy. "It doesn't make any difference whether the money is contributed directly or filtered through the union. It's still the employee's money, and DSHS has to have written permission."
The Freedom Foundation filed a complaint with the state Attorney General's Office in September. Because the AG declined to act on the allegations, the Freedom Foundation can now file its own lawsuit.
DSHS, SEIU 775 and Gov. Jay Inslee are all named as plaintiffs in the suit.
The union maintains many – though not all – of the workers have signed membership cards on file authorizing the deduction of dues. But the workers are employed by the state, not the union, and it's DSHS that's supposed to make sure the dues deductions are authorized.
"The union claims it has these membership cards on file, and it tells DSHS to take dues out of their paychecks," Abernathy said. "But it doesn't show them to anyone. DSHS just takes the word of a private organization interested in maximizing its revenue and political influence.
"If the state is the employer, and if it's the one taking money out of people's checks, it needs to have the records on file," he added. "And those records need to be available for public inspection. That's the law."
The suit, which involves millions of dollars deducted improperly by DSHS for the union's benefit, seeks civil penalties spelled out in the Fair Campaign Practices Act, and it seeks to have the employees' written authorizations made available to the public.
"This is right out of Special Interests 101," Abernathy said. "The state does favors for Big Labor. In return, Big Labor contributes the money to its preferred candidates and causes, who then perpetuate the favors. It's a vicious cycle of undue influence."