Misleading Rightwingers Get Called Out by MT Attorney General

Yesterday, Progressive States reported on lobbyist Rick Berman's operation Center for Union Facts (a misleading name, to say the least) putting television ads on the air in four states attacking public employees.

Fortunately, not everyone is taking the attacks without responding in kind.

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Who's Backing UnionFacts.org?

Onnesha Roychoudhuri has a piece on UnionFacts.org at Alternet.  But I think that the Hotline has a really interesting take - who's backing the group?  Marc Ambinger and Jonathan Martin report that it's not the Chamber of Commerce, though I have a hard time believing that.

Unionfacts.org is probably not a charity, though it's filed as one.  So the group fronting the money might be in for a rude shock in terms of taxable income should the IRS choose to clamp down.

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More on UnionFacts.org and Rick Berman

Commenter Sierra Volk noticed another interesting shady piece of propaganda coming from unionfacts.org:

One of the sleazier things unionfacts.com does is list by name the "salaries" of officers and staffers at union headquarters, which is publicly available information. But in order to make the unions look like a herd of top-heavy fat cats, the "salaries" listed are actually (though this isn't explained on the site) the COMBINATION of salary-plus-expenses.

Since a lot of union staff spend their time out in the field, traveling from place to place to, you know, help people who want to organize their workplace and win a chance at a decent paycheck and fairness in the workplace, expenses can run high, once you add up a year's worth of airfares and hotel rooms. So an organizer getting by on, say, $40 or $50 thou a year, is represented as pullling down a sweet $120,000 or more.

I haven't looked into the filings, though from glancing at the salary list it does like a valid observation. Ok,  The site lists 'Benefits and other' instead of just benefits, and there's no rhyme or reason to that category on, say, this list.  I would imagine that this kind of creative 'research' is indeed expensive.

So here we have an organization set up by business lobbyists portraying fines against management as fines against union leadership, supposedly pretending that expenses incurred by employees is salary income, and doing it under the auspices of a 'charity' organization.  This is part and parcel of the whole right-wing apparatus, which is basically an organized disinformation campaign designed not so much to inform the public with right-wing ideas as to confuse the public into apathy.  Oh, and doing it, apparently, with your tax money.

Nice job, Rick Berman.  So very Orwell.  Redstate is pleased.

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Is a New Anti-Union Group Abusing Its Tax Status?

I've written periodically on unions, and on astroturf groups abusing their tax status.  It's so nice when two trends come together.  

You might have noticed a new site called UnionFacts.org, which is designed to push right-wing content into wider media channels.  The site is completely bunk, of course, but that's not what's interesting about this story.

Unions are critical to the progressive movement and the Democratic Party.  If you want to know why, read 'The Role of Labor in a Political Campaign; labor provides a critical slice of the machinery that elects Democrats.  So attacking unions is key to the right-wing ascendancy that right-wing business interests seek.

Which brings us to UnionFact.org.  Let's just do some background, and a little debunking.  Via David Sirota, we learn that the guy behind the site, Rick Berman, is a major league sleazoid who led attacks on Mothers Against Drunk Driving and has worked on union-busting for the right-wing Chamber of Commerce.  Nathan Newman debunks the site itself.  For instance, the site points out that $400 million plus in fines and restitutions has been awarded in Department of Labor racketeering investigations." Newman reveals the dishonesty by digging into the numbers, and showing that "almost all of the big money associated with the $400 million figure in labor racketeering was committed by private industry AGAINST unions, not by union officials."

So the site, if it weren't misleading, would probably make an effective case against management.  But who's behind it?  According to the web site:

The Center for Union Facts is a non-profit organization supported by foundations, businesses, union members, and the general public. We are dedicated to showing Americans the truth about today's union leadership.

Really?  That's fascinating.  A business lobbyist working for industries fighting against unions is suddenly running a 'charity' just to educate the public.  How charitable.  CREW is on the case:

Mr. Berman is the president and sole owner of a for-profit lobbying and public relations firm, Berman & Co., Inc. (BCI), which has long served the interests of the tobacco, alcohol and chain restaurant industries. In November 2004, CREW sent a letter to the IRS asking for an investigation into Berman's and CCF's multiple violations of IRS law. CREW had copied Sens. Grassley and Baucus on the complaint, but never received a response.

CREW asked Sens. Grassley and Baucus to investigate whether CCF and CUF are engaged in charitable activities or whether they are in fact, merely front organizations for for-profit industry entities.

This abuse of tax status isn't new by right-wingers, but it's getting worse.  Americans for Job Security is organized as a 501c6, a trade association, when it is engaging in electoral advocacy.  And now The Center for Union Facts is filed as a charity - isn't this something to investigate?

Maybe Democratic Senator Max Baucus should look into the matter.

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