Funding the Post-Janus Fight Against Government Unions

A recent “messaging memo,” issued by “OpportunityAgenda.org,” provides expert marketing advice for activists who hope to mitigate the impact of the much anticipated Janus ruling. In that case, currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, the expected decision will empower government workers to opt-out of paying any union dues whatsoever. Depending on the details which will be announced any day now, government unions are going to have to – imagine this – ask public employees to join, and will not be able to deduct dues from their paychecks if they refuse.

The stakes are immense. Just in California, government unions collect and spend over $1.0 billion per year. Nearly all of this money either funds left-wing political candidates and lobbyists, or funds “education” efforts that promote leftist ideology and policy. But back to this memo.

The memo makes no distinction between government unions which should be illegal, and private sector unions which play a vital role in American society, but regardless of its flawed logic it deserves careful scrutiny. Not only because each of the tips it provides are the product of the finest professionals the left can buy, and are therefore instructive to those who might offer rebuttals, but because “the Opportunity Agenda is a project of the Tides Center,” an organization that offers financial and logistical support for activism that to-date has not been matched by anything on the right.

Which begs the question: With a Janus ruling imminent, who will fund the fight against government unions?

Moreover, the presence of an organization like the Tides Foundation is only one aspect of the strategic advantages accruing to the left. Here are the sources of funds available to left-wing candidates, advocacy groups, and educational organizations:

  • Broad based foundation support, with the Tides Foundation among those at the apex.
  • Massive contributions from the business community, especially very large multinational corporations.
  • Massive contributions from leftist billionaires.
  • Billions each year from labor unions, more than 50% of those funds from government unions.

By contrast, right-of-center candidates, advocacy groups, and educational organizations receive far less in foundation support, measurably less from the business community, less – despite perceptions successfully promulgated by leftist propagandists – from individual billionaires, and almost none of the billions that pour in annually to America’s labor unions. Why is this?

First of all because being on the left is not bad for business, unless you are an emerging small business that offers a disruptive innovation. Major corporations enjoy a symbiotic relationship with government bureaucracies and big labor, because they all aspire to become – or remain – monopolistic entities that benefit from more regulations and less freedom. The biggest and most successful lie the left has ever spread is the lie that they are fighting for the ordinary worker, because in reality, now more than ever, the opposite is true.

As they hide behind leftist, “for the people” rhetoric, the agenda of big business and big labor are actually aligned. They are fighting together to lock up production and stifle competition, and the only workers who benefit at all are the ones who are fortunate enough to belong to a union that is embedded in a monopolistic entity. Government unions are the perfect example. And even here, it is only those individuals who are themselves either unwilling or unable to do excellent work in exchange for job security and promotions who are truly the benefactors.

Foundations, for the most part, are funded by major corporations and individual billionaires. Their donations reflect the agenda of their donors. And not only are the inherent interests of big business and big labor aligned, but even those more selfless major corporate and individual donors are usually intimidated by the activists on the left.

Another disadvantage for the right is that even though many corporate donors may have principled objections to socialist regulation of their businesses, their opposition is balkanized. A telecommunications company may fund a multi-faceted fight for appropriate deregulation, as might an energy company, but rarely are these organizations supporting activist groups or educational think tanks that do ongoing, principled work on all the relevant issues.

Instead, most of the right-of-center 501c3 organizations, 501c4 organizations, and political campaigns are either single issue entities that ignore the big picture, or they are single campaign groups that rise up then die on cycles that last no more than 18 months, or they are scratching, clawing perpetual startups that expend more resources on fundraising than on their work. Very few right-of-center policy shops rise above this Hobbesian morass.

Contrast this reality with the work of the Tides Foundation. As reported by the Capital Research Center, “Its vast mountain of money has made the Tides Foundation a powerhouse in left-wing politics, but its role in incubating new organizations is arguably Tides’ greatest achievement for the Left and the Democratic Party. Almost since its inception, Tides has worked to develop new infrastructure for the activist Left through “fiscal sponsorship” of new groups. Over time, those activities—funding and incubating—were split between the Tides Foundation and its 501(c)(3) subsidiary, the Tides Center.”

And how big is this “mountain of money”?

According to InfluenceWatch.org, in 2015 the Tides Foundation spent $166 million, an amount that has likely grown in more recent years. Its funding beneficiaries – exclusively leftist in outlook – included the Alliance for Global Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Climate Reality Project, League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, League of Women Voters, National Organization for Women, Natural Resources Defense Council, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Progress Michigan, SourceWatch, National Council of La Raza, and many others, including Opportunity Agenda.

What percentage of total staff resources might one surmise are spent by these well-established organizations on fundraising? In comparison to right-of-center nonprofits? Which brings us back to Opportunity Agenda. Because if the Tides Foundation routinely pours way over $100 million per year into the coffers of these big organizations, Opportunity Agenda’s approach is to “use a unique combination of communication expertise and creative engagement to help social justice leaders tell a better story, move hearts and minds, and drive lasting policy and culture change.” As a direct project of the Tides Center, Opportunity Agenda does not likely spend a lot of time on fundraising. They are free to hire top talent, and focus on their work.

That work will include mitigating the impact of the Janus ruling. It is potentially the greatest threat that government unions have ever faced, and it’s about time. The damage government unions have done to American democracy is incalculable. Not sure about that? Come to California, where a beleaguered populace works feverishly to pay their bills in the highest taxed, highest cost-of-living state in America. Come to California, where all-powerful, single-party, bloated, unionized state and local governments rack up debt that now totals over a trillion dollars.

Perhaps the activism and educational outreach of the unorganized right is how it should be. Instead of paid armies of union professionals joined with paid armies of professionals working for left-of-center research institutes and think tanks, the right relies primarily on volunteers. Right-of-center organizations with paid employees rely on donations that come and go, and they spend most of their time with their hat in their hands, begging for a few dollars more to keep the lights on for another quarter. That’s noble. Maybe that’s even appropriate. But can they go toe to toe with the leftist juggernaut?

Rest assured, Opportunity Agenda will offer government union locals across the nation lavish access to the “better stories,” as they do everything in their considerable power to prevent government employees from using their new rights under Janus to opt-out of union membership. Against them sails a rag tag fleet of underfunded freedom fighters.

With America’s future hanging in the balance, it is astonishing that these structural deficiencies are not fixed by patriotic Americans with the means to do so.

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