A conservative public policy group announced Wednesday it’s planning to spend a “mid-six-figure” dollar amount to inform Missourians about the benefits of right to work.
The Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP-Foundation) completed what it calls an “education effort” in St. Louis and is expanding the program statewide.
The group is a tax exempt public charity. It’s associated with Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which is owned by wealthy brothers Charles and David Koch, who spend heavily to support conservative and libertarian causes and candidates.
Right to work legislation was signed into law by Republican Governor Eric Greitens in February. It bars any requirement for workers to join unions in order to have a job.
AFP-Foundation’s statewide campaign to support the law includes funding for digital ads, direct mail, door-to-door canvassing and phone banking. It’s part of a new program recently launched by the foundation to inform the public about new laws that it endorses.
The Foundation’s Missouri State Director, Jeremy Cady, says the campaign had to prove its worthiness during a trial run in St. Louis.
“What we found was that our education efforts were in fact successful, that individuals in the area did understand the law much better after we were finished” said Cady. “So what we’re doing is we’re now broadening our scope statewide to educate more Missourians in the same manner.”
AFP conducted polling which showed more people had a favorable view of the right to work law after its St. Louis campaign.
The group has no formal connection with a lawsuit that’s been moving through Missouri courts.
The litigation is a response to an effort by unions to get the law before a public vote. It’s legal in Missouri to challenge legislation signed into law through the ballot process. The unions are attempting to collect the required number of public signatures to force a ballot referendum.
The language of the summary, which is attached to signature pages workers carry as they’re gathering signatures, is under dispute in the lawsuit. Attorneys representing a Missouri nurse and two Kansas City police officers successfully argued before a circuit court in Cole County that the summary could be confusing to voters.
The judge’s decision was appealed to a higher court by Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who wrote the summary, and Mike Louis, the head of the Missouri AFL-CIO. A three judge panel at the state’s Western District Court of Appeals in Kansas City reversed the lower bench ruling last Friday.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is representing the Missourians who brought the lawsuit, has indicated an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court is possible.
In a statement, foundation Vice President Patrick Semmens said “an appeal is still an option”. He further stated “The blame ultimately lies with the Secretary of State who approved language that the court acknowledged is grammatically-flawed and could be confusing to voters, even though it left the problematic language unchanged.”
Missouri AFL-CIO head Mike Louis contends the language written by Secretary Ashcroft complies with state law. “The constitution and the statute say specifically that the people have a right to vote no and say ‘No, we don’t accept what the legislature passed and the governor signed’” Louis said.
Union workers have been continually canvassing the state for signatures using the language originally written and approved by Secretary Ashcroft. They have until August 28th to gather signatures from five percent of legal voters in the last governor’s election in any six of the eight congressional districts in Missouri.
That total needed will be around 100,000, depending on the districts included. If enough of the signatures collected are deemed valid, the right to work law will be delayed until the public vote is held on the ballot referendum in 2018.
During the recent special legislative session on abortion, Republican Senator Bob Dixon of Springfield chastised fellow GOP members for rushing to pass the right to work bill.
“We gave the opposition more time to collect signatures and put it on the ballot for a vote because we got in a hurry” said Dixon. “And now we’ve shot ourselves in the foot.”
The Republican super-majority legislature rocketed the right to work bill through in January, knowing a like-minded GOP governor would quickly sign it into law. They’d been frustrated in previous attempts when Democratic heads of state, notably Jay Nixon in 2015, vetoed their legislation.
Once the unions ramped up the ballot referendum effort, GOP state lawmakers, along with groups such as the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, launched an informal campaign to defend the right to work statute. Chamber President Dan Mehan says his organization is pulling out all stops to protect the law.
“This was a big win for business” said Mehan. “It was a big win for Missouri. It was a big win for economic opportunity. And we will do everything we can to make sure it is eventually the law of the land without challenge.”
Mehan says the Chamber, along with its supporters, would be funding a campaign to ensure the right to work law becomes permanent. But he said it was too early to quote a dollar figure at this point.
AFP’s Cady thinks the right to work law is in Missouri to stay, even if unions are successful in getting it to a public vote. “That’s something that resonates strongly with Missourians” Cady said. “I think as a whole, Missourians definitely agree that workers should have that choice on whether or not they join a union or pay dues.”
Several high ranking state Republicans claim the union effort is a large-scale smear campaign that has involved physical violence. Two lawmakers and the state’s GOP party chairman are holding a press call to discuss the issue Thursday morning.