The Freedom Foundation is always active — and usually winning — in its legal battles with public-sector unions in Washington, Oregon and California. But even by our standards, the past few weeks have seen a significant number of notable victories in Washington state appellate courts.
The cases all relate to whether Washington’s Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA) requires a citizen to file a lawsuit within a very short 10-day period. And considered together, the rulings bode well for the Freedom Foundation’s efforts to ensure unions follow the same disclosure laws every other political entity must.
Under the FCPA, an individual can lodge a complaint with the government alleging a defendant is violating the law, and the government has 45 days to act. If it doesn’t, the FCPA requires the complainant to then notify the government it has 10 more days to act. If government officials disagree the defendant is violating the FCPA and do nothing, the citizen has the right to file his or her own lawsuit in court against the defendant.
In the first Freedom Foundation case of note, the Division II Court of Appeals denied “discretionary” review of a trial court ruling by Judge James Dixon, effectively validating our interpretation of the statute that the FCPA only requires the citizen to notify, and then wait 10 more days to allow state officials to act on the citizen’s complaint, but does not put any further obligation on the citizen.
What this likely means is that the Appellate Court believes Judge Dixon is correct, or else it would have accepted appellate review to decide this important issue without going through a trial in the lower court.
Instead, the judges decided our claims should continue toward resolution in the trial court.
The Freedom Foundation is seeking to have SEIU 775 declared a political committee — and require it to register as one — because of its extensive (almost single-handed) support for Initiative 1501, including spending millions of dollars on political activity during a single month (June, 2016).
And since the appeals court did not accept discretionary review, we now have the opportunity to get to the truth of the matter in the trial court and hold SEIU 775 accountable for its actions.
Just as significantly, in two other cases the Washington State Supreme Court has agreed to give “direct” review to our appeals concerning the same issue, in which the Freedom Foundation believes the trial court misapplied the statute in dismissing two separate cases.
The Supreme Court likely thinks our position is correct and that the issue is at least important enough to consider now rather asking us to spend years in the court of appeals before being able to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
In the Teamsters 117 case, the Freedom Foundation seeks to hold the union accountable for failing to disclose any of its tens of thousands of dollars of political spending annually. Worse, Teamsters 117 registered its Separate Segregated Fund as a PAC with the IRS, but claims it didn’t have to disclose according to the IRS rules because it was disclosing here in Washington state.
Teamsters 117 knows it is not disclosing, and indeed is fighting hard not to.
In the SEIU PEAF case, the Freedom Foundation alleges SEIU’s national PAC has failed to submit in-state disclosures required for a PAC that conducts at least 20 percent of its national political activity in this state. In fact, PEAF spent well over $1 million in Washington state in 2016. Ignoring the clear violations, however, Superior Court judges ruled the unions benefitted from a 10-day notice requirement to the governments, and dismissed the citizen’s actions because the Freedom Foundation did not file within 10 days.
The Washington State Supreme Court rarely grants a request to review a case before the Court of Appeals does (for example, it declined to decide the Seattle income tax case). This time the court did, and also consolidated the Teamsters 117 case and SEIU PEAF case in order to issue one, comprehensive decision.
A victory in the Supreme Court on these cases would mean that not only will SEIU 775 and other powerful unions in this state have to face the music, but also that the citizen’s action remains a meaningful tool for all citizens to use toward ensuring government (and union) transparency.
These rulings put us a step closer to that victory and give us hope for a difficult win before the Washington State Supreme Court.