Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2017

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Advocacy group angles for $35K to help you leave your union

New documents reveal how a Nevada free-market advocacy group plans to finance a campaign to encourage union members to leave their unions.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute has applied for $35,000 from the State Policy Network, a major beneficiary of national conservative organizations like Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council, according to documents published Thursday by the Guardian.

NPRI doesn’t disclose its donors, making this document a small glimpse into how the group finances its organization’s initiatives.

The document states that NPRI submitted an application this summer to “stage a campaign informing union members of their right to leave their union.”

“NPRI will research how and when union members can leave their union, then prepare materials to ease the process,” the document states. “NPRI additionally will create videos, publish op-eds and send email alerts promoting their material. Success will be determined by the number of individuals who leave the union and the number that elect not to join the union.”

The proposal is almost identical to a campaign NPRI conducted this year to advise members of the Clark County Education Association, a teachers union, of how and when they could leave the union. That was part of a larger, national effort dubbed “Employee Freedom Week.”

During June and July, NPRI sent several emails to thousands of teachers, notifying them of their opportunity to opt out of the union. NPRI publicized reasons why teachers should drop the union and provided template letters they could send to the union to opt out.

In interviews this year, NPRI’s Victor Joecks told the Sun that the “goal of our campaign is to tell you that you can leave if you want to leave.”

But the document shows that NPRI doesn’t measure success by how many union members they reach with their message; it judges the campaign’s success on how many union members leave the union or elect not to join it.

“What we’ve seen with our Clark County campaign and our polling across the country is that there are millions of people out there who would like to leave their union, and if we’re having a campaign to let them know they can leave their union, an obvious measure of communicating that message of employee freedom is the number of people who left,” Joecks said.

This year, 469 teachers cancelled their union memberships from July 1-15, the two-week window during which teachers can “opt out” of union membership.

But it’s not entirely clear how much the NPRI campaign influenced teachers to drop union membership. Some may have retired, moved to another line of work or moved to another school district.

Representatives from the state teachers union said they weren’t surprised to learn where NPRI is getting its money.

“If you take a look at people who have connected with them, it’s conservative groups,” said Ruben Murillo, president of the Nevada State Education Association. “When NPRI says they’re running a campaign like this to protect teachers, they’re far from doing that. It’s not to protect the teacher, it’s to break the unions.”

NPRI has consistently advocated for greater government transparency, but it views disclosing its own donors as an infringement on free speech, and its vice president has written a lengthy essay against disclosure.

NRPI is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and is linked to other state-level “free market think tanks” via the State Policy Network.

The document the Guardian obtained shows how affiliated groups proposed 40 campaigns to do things like institute school vouchers, reform Medicaid, eliminate estate taxes, roll back state employee benefits, privatize government agencies, repeal state incomes taxes and lower state corporate income taxes.

It is not known if any of the 40 proposals received funding.

The Guardian states that it is publishing this summary of proposals in conjunction with the Texas Observer and Portland Press Herald in Maine to “give readers and news outlets full and fair access to state-by-state conservative plans that could have significant impact throughout the U.S., and to allow the public to reach its own conclusions about whether these activities comply with the spirit of nonprofit tax-exempt charities.”

Joecks said there’s nothing unusual about the NPRI grant request.

“There are hundreds of thousands of nonprofits doing this very thing,” he said. “It just seems so overblown: ‘nonprofit organization fundraises.’ OK, that’s what nonprofit organizations do. ... If you want to find out what we’re doing, go to our website. We publish hundreds of articles a year. We support liberty.”

“We respect the privacy of our donors and we don’t go into fundraising information,” Joecks said in response to a question about the success or failure of the grant application.

The document shows NPRI does not appear to have obtained prior grant funding from the State Policy Network’s Searle Freedom Trust.

The trust is a private foundation that in 2011 donated millions, largely to conservative causes, according to the Guardian.

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