Right-wing Bradley Foundation leads charge to destroy labor unions
Exposed by The Center for Media and Democracy.

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (PAI) — Move over, Koch brothers. You’ve got company – and had it even before you made the scene – as financial heavyweights in the Radical Right drive to destroy unions and workers.

Meet the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which has led a national effort to de-fund and wreck unions, according to documents examined by the independent Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), a nonprofit advocacy group based in Madison, Wis.

Along with the Kochs, the Bradley Foundation is crusading to trash unions despite overwhelming public support for workers. Over the last 80 years – since passage of the National Labor Relations Act — Gallup Polls show an average union-approval rate of 64.2 percent of all respondents.

That hasn’t stopped the Kochs, Bradley, or similar right wing individuals and groups. More significantly, by relying on its tax-exempt status to promote Republicans’ goal of weakening unions for political purposes, the Bradley Foundation indirectly uses public funds to do so.

According to GuideStar USA, an information service maintaining a comprehensive database on nonprofits, Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation – with assets of $845,139,789, – is a tax-exempt nonprofit private foundation.

Legally, such “charity” organizations with tax exemptions, called 501(c)(3) foundations in the Internal Revenue Code, are prohibited from participating in partisan politics.

“There is no basis for the proposition that ‘defunding labor unions’ is a charitable purpose within the Internal Revenue Code,” CMD was told by attorney Marcus Owen, who directed the Exempt Organizations Division of the Internal Revenue Service for 10 years.

Alone and through donations to similar anti-union groups, the Bradley Foundation’s most significant labor targets include geographic areas, such as the state of Washington, along with public employees and teachers.

“Many have felt for a while that the system was rigged. We could see it on the ground as folks living paycheck to paycheck worked harder than ever but couldn’t get ahead and schoolteachers faced a steady diet of demonization and budget cuts,” says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

“This exposé on the Bradley Foundation and its grantees makes crystal clear it was rigged – by a deliberate strategy to undercut the power of everyday people,” she adds.

Organized labor has some financial resources to combat the Bradley Foundation, the Koch brothers and their allies and political puppets. But, more importantly, it has considerable “boots on the ground” to get out the vote. It also has campaign finance committees (PACs), funded by voluntary contributions, to help candidates who support collective bargaining and allied social causes.

But back to the exploitation of “tax-exempt” to attack labor, what’s “charitable” about union-busting? Nothing, said another lawyer involved in uncovering the ruse.

“Tax-exempt status is reserved for charitable, educational, and other genuinely non-partisan causes,” commented Eric Havian, an attorney with the San Francisco firm of Constantine Cannon, which specializes in IRS and other whistleblower complaints. “It should not cynically be claimed for organizations whose mission is to boost the fortunes of one political party at the expense of another.”

Technically, the Bradley Foundation isn’t boosting political parties. But the investigation shows it assists high-profile pro right-wing and pro-Republican groups – several of them secretive, business-backed, or both.

One is the now-notorious or-radical right pro-GOP American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which brings together Republican politicians and business lobbyists and moguls to write “model” legislation against workers, minorities and other dissenters. The Bradley Foundation contributed $1.1 million between 1986-2015 to ALEC, CMD reported.

ALEC and the Heritage Foundation are among groups that pushed a new strategy and drafted model legislation to impose so-called “right to work” schemes by getting local governments to enact RTW ordinances in areas where states resist the anti-union measure.

RTW prohibits labor contracts requiring workers in unionized bargaining units to share in the costs of organizing and enforcing contracts. That lets tens of thousands of workers be “free riders,” taking union services while not paying one red cent for them.

In Illinois, for example, right wing GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, a former private equity executive, proposed such a scheme. The Lake County village of Lincolnshire followed his lead with their local ordinance, but a federal judge tossed that measure out in January.

After ALEC, the National Right to Work Defense Foundation – the legal and political arm of the National Right to Work Committee, and funder of lawsuits challenging union fees from “free riders” – was second in getting Bradley Foundation money, at $20.91 million.

Politically, the union-busting effort is a transparent attempt to benefit Republicans. In a recent opinion piece in The Hill, Jeff Rhodes, of the conservative think tank The Freedom Foundation, attributed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s election to destruction of unions in key states, calling on Congress to implement union-busting RTW legislation nationwide.

“Did the labor reforms enacted in Wisconsin and neighboring Michigan help Donald Trump win those states?” asked Matt Patterson, executive director of the Center for Worker Freedom at Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, another key right wing group. “No question in my mind.”

Yet even with the onslaught of anti-union propaganda in recent years, 56 percent of Americans continue to approve of unions, according to Gallup’s most recent poll, last year.

In the shadows, taking advantage of their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, are the following anti-union nonprofits who’ve received contributions from the Bradley Foundation, CMD showed:

  • The Hudson Institute ($39,904,608, GuideStar says)
  • National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation ($20,910,465)
  • Manhattan Institute for Policy Research ($20,727,480)
  • Freedom Foundation ($11,333,627)
  • Mackinac Center for Public Policy ($11,123,297)
  • Independence Institute ($5,147,253)
  • American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and partners including the State Policy Network ($5,107,279)
  • Barry Goldwater Institute for Public Policy Research ($5,069,202)
  • Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty ($3,368,483).
  • Opportunity Ohio ($520,313)
  • Education Action Group Foundation ($454,135)
  • Americans for Tax Reform and partners, including the Randolph Foundation ($243,249)
  • Liberty Foundation of America ($138,951).


Bill Knight
Bill Knight

Bill Knight is a freelance writer, syndicated columnist, and contributor to the Peoria monthlies Community Word and The Labor Paper.