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Charity accused of improper political activities

The Freedom Foundation, which is behind several anti-union lawsuits, is the subject of complaints to the IRS, and Washington and Oregon attorney general's office


A nonprofit organization that combats right wing organizations’ increasing influence in the Pacific Northwest has accused a local conservative charity of violating federal rules for tax-exempt status.

The Northwest Accountability Project has filed complaints against the Freedom Foundation with the Internal Revenue Service, the Washington Attorney General’s Office and most recently, the Oregon Attorney General’s Office. Both nonprofit organizations are based in Washington but also operate in Oregon.

The complaints allege that the Freedom Foundation has violated restrictions on lobbying and other political activities for organizations with tax-exempt status and is operating for the benefit of the Republican Party and other conservative groups.

Northwest Accountability Project asked the IRS to revoke the foundation’s tax-exempt status requested that the attorney general’s offices investigate the foundation to determine whether it is operating as a charity. Sixteen other organizations, including labor unions and progressive groups, joined in the complaint to the IRS.

David Tucker, an IRS spokesman, said federal law prohibits the agency from discussing complaints. Kristina Edmunson, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Justice, said her agency had received Freedom Foundation complaint Tuesday and had yet to review it.

Northwest Accountability Project claimed in a statement that it “has uncovered evidence from Freedom Foundation leadership and staff that their covert purpose is to attack labor unions in order to ‘defund the political left’ and advance certain conservative candidates, a clear violation of IRS and state rules.”

For instance, the organization claims that the Freedom Foundation held a fundraiser on April 23, 2014, in Vancouver for Lynda Wilson, a Republican candidate for the Washington state Senate.

Maxford Nelson, director of labor policy at the Freedom Foundation, said the event was a foundation tour, where Wilson spoke.

Nelson claimed the complaints against the Freedom Foundation are politically motivated.

“It’s a mixture of false allegations and factual ones that they, of course, put their spin on, but none of it is indicative of any criminal activity” by the Freedom Foundation, Nelson said.

The Freedom Foundation has spearheaded a series of anti-union lawsuits in Oregon and Washington that have targeted unions’ lifeblood - mandatory union fees.

For instance, the foundation is representing a Deschutes County home care worker who recently sued her union for barring her from opting out of membership dues in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that exempted home care contractors from compulsory union fees.

In June 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in Harris v. Quinn that because home care workers are contractors in state-subsidized programs, rather than public employees, they have no obligation to pay fees to a union with which the state has a collective bargaining agreement.

The Northwest Accountability Project formed in October with 501(c)(4) status. Unlike the foundation, it has no tax-exempt status. As such, the organization is legally allowed to engage in lobbying, spend unlimited money, endorse candidates and does not have to disclose the names of all contributors.

“The organization was formed as a watchdog of right wing organizations,” said Heather Weiner, spokeswoman for the Northwest Accountability Project. “It just so happens that the Freedom Foundation is so far out there that it is the one we’re focusing on.”

Weiner said the organization receives donations from community organizations, progressive groups and labor unions.

The foundation reported more than $2.1 million in revenue in 2014 but is not required to report the source of its donations. The State Policy Network and Donors Trust are among groups that have reported contributing money to the foundation, according to an October story by The Olympian. The newspaper reported Knowledge and Progress Fund, which is partly led by Charles Koch, has helped to fund Donors Trust.


By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
503-385-4899
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