Fighting Back Against Koch-Funded Group’s Anti-Union Tactics
A conservative organization continues to push for right to work legislation in New Hampshire while state legislators, two of whom are fire fighters, continue to push back by voting against the measure.
Right to work is a source of contention in many states, including New Hampshire, where the measure has failed to pass after several attempts. When introduced during the 2016 legislative session, it was defeated by a narrow margin. Americans for Prosperity (AFP) then distributed campaign literature targeting the Republican legislators who voted against the legislation.
Flyers produced by Americans for Prosperity warned voters about legislators who are “restricting worker freedoms” that would allow individuals to opt out of a union or choose to decline paying union dues.
The group’s aggressive tactics prompted seven Republican legislators to write a letter to Attorney General Gordon MacDonald requesting an investigation into its legal status. Sean Morrison, a member of Hampton Local 2664, and Mark Proulx, a member of Nashua Local 789, voted against right to work legislation.
Now registered as a social welfare organization, Americans for Prosperity is not required to release the names of its donors or the specific amounts it receives. Federal law prohibits such entities from campaigning for or against candidates for public office.
“We believe AFP is misusing its non-profit social welfare status by engaging in targeted political attack advertisements against many New Hampshire state representatives or candidates that have opposed AFP endorsed bills, including right to work,” the letter stated.
Morrison dismissed claims by the group’s representatives that it is not primarily a political organization.
“Anybody with a sixth-grade education can see that their main purpose is political activity,” Morrison said. “They give out political awards to conservative politicians. How are they not a political organization? But they represent a national platform rather than people in New Hampshire. I represent people in New Hampshire.”
Americans for Prosperity was founded by the Koch brothers, a Wichita, Kansas family known to support conservative political causes. One flyer distributed by the organization read, “Representative Sean Morrison voted to side with union bosses instead of with Governor Sununu.”
Morrison estimates that $60 million is spent during an election cycle to promote right to work legislation. While not opposed to distribution of political leaflets, he says Americans for Prosperity is distorting his voting record.
“They’re telling my neighbors that I voted for an income tax when I voted for a family medical leave insurance program,” he says. “They lied. I believe PACs are more accountable. We want more accountability.”
When right to work was last introduced in 2016, the measure failed by a 200 to 177 vote. Among Republicans, 36 voted against the bill.
“You can say what you want about right to work, but when you attack someone’s benefits, it is an attack on them and their family,” Morrison says. “If you go after someone’s benefits, you will never win their vote again. A lot of Republicans don’t understand that.”
He believes dark money from unidentified sources outside the state creates unnecessary political tension over an issue that fails to resonate with New Hampshire voters. In 2012, a right to work bill passed the House but failed in the Senate. In the following election cycle, Republicans in the House lost a whopping 109 seats. Morrison says the campaign money flowing to legislators is too great to resist voting for an unpopular measure.
“Right to work legislation is detrimental to fire fighters and public employees, and many state legislators recognize that by voting it down,” says General President Harold Schaitberger. “But, political organizations with a narrow, anti-labor agenda continue to press the issue while attacking any official who opposes their agenda.”
Proulx is another campaign target of Americans for Prosperity. He says leaflets critical of his voting record began appearing in August 2016.
A campaign worker placed a leaflet under his door that attacked his position on right to work. When the individual making deliveries matched the face on the flyer with the homeowner, Proulx joked, “At least try and use a good photo of me.”
Proulx says union activity keeps wages and benefits for all workers at a competitive level. If one business is a union shop and pays a competitive hourly rate, a non-union shop in the market will have to offer similar pay to attract employees.
“Right to work is not good for us, and we know why,” he says. “If businesses do not have to pay fair wages, they certainly won’t. If they don’t have to pay benefits, then they won’t. Under right to work laws they can say, ‘I don’t like the shirt you’re wearing’ and terminate you.”
Proulx believes the negative strategy by Americans for Prosperity helped him during his last campaign.
“People ask me, ‘So you’re a fire fighter and a Republican, how does that work?’” he says. “I believe in labor. I support most Republican positions, but I’m a labor guy. I don’t think labor is just Democrats anymore. It’s really a third party.”