Evergreen Freedom Foundation

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF) is a nonprofit, public policy research organization based in Olympia, Washington. Established in 1991, its mission is to “advance individual liberty, free enterprise, and limited, accountable government.” EFF is primarily focused on policy issues in Washington State.

The president and founder of EFF is Bob Williams, a former gubernatorial candidate and state legislator. He oversees of staff of 26 whose primary research areas are labor, budget and taxes, elections, education, and open government. EFF gets its funding from over 5,000 individuals, businesses, associations, and foundations.

EFF frequently uses voter referendums and litigation as campaign tools. It has successfully sued to stop unions’ misuse of workers’ dues, and promoted citizen initiatives to curb excessive spending and taxation by the state legislature.

Opposing union misdeeds

In 1992, Washington State voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 134, a “paycheck protection law” which EFF’s Bob Williams helped write. The law banned the practice of using mandatory union payroll deductions for political activities without the written authorization of the union member. It also increased disclosure requirements for big labor.

The Washington Education Association (WEA), the state’s teachers union, opposed the initiative because it forced the union to rely on voluntary political contributions from its members to fund political activities. And beginning when Initiative 134 became law, the WEA repeatedly tried to circumvent its provisions.

In 1996, EFF filed a campaign finance complaint against the WEA, on behalf of a group of teachers. The complaint accused the WEA of using union dues for political activities without its members’ consent. In 1998 the union settled the case, agreeing to pay more than $400,000 in fines and refunds.

EFF filed another complaint with the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) in February 2000, alleging that the WEA union did not obtain the teachers’ permission to use their dues for political purposes.

In May 2001 the PDC sued the WEA for more than $600,000, after determining that the union did in fact misspend dues as alleged by EFF. At issue was the WEA’s use of “fees” paid by nonmembers. About 4,000 of the 70,000 teachers the union represented were nonmembers. They paid fees for collective bargaining and other nonpolitical services. However, the state attorney accused the WEA of improperly mixing nonmember payments with regular union members, and spending part of that money on political action.

In July 2001, a state superior court ruled against the union and ordered it to pay a $400,000 fine and $200,000 in legal costs. But a state appeals court and the Washington Supreme Court later ruled for the WEA, holding that Initiative 134 “unduly burdens unions” and is unconstitutional.

In June 2007 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that Washington Supreme Court ruling. In Washington v. Washington Education Association, the Court ruled that states can require public-employee labor unions to get consent from workers before using their fees for political purposes.

In December 2008, the WEA settled the state lawsuit by agreeing to pay $975,000 in fines and teacher refunds.

Reining in taxes and spending through voter-backed reforms

EFF successfully fought for measures to curb the ability of the state legislature to hike taxes and spending. For instance, EFF played an important role in helping to enact Initiative 601 in 1993. This measure set a two-thirds majority requirement for legislative approval of tax increases.

To build public support for the measure, reported the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, EFF published a pamphlet titled “Pork Haven! A Booklet of Washington State Government Abuses.” EFF also provided regular commentaries on a popular Seattle radio station that highlighted spending abuses.

In April 2005, the Washington legislature took action to negate the provisions of Initiative 601. A new law created an “emergency clause” which allowed the legislature to approve new taxes by a simple majority vote, and modified the Initiative 601 spending limits to allow the state budget to grow faster. The legislature then passed $500 million in tax increases.

EFF joined a coalition of business and farm groups in a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the “emergency clause,” and asking the Secretary of State to accept a voter referendum of the legislature’s actions. Under Initiative 601, taxes that lift spending above an annual limit are not valid until approved by voters through a referendum.

In March 2006, a Snohomish county judge ruled that the legislature exceeded the mandated spending limit and that some of the new taxes did require voters’ approval. In a later ruling, the judge also held that $85 million in liquor and sales taxes were invalid.

The state Supreme Court handed EFF a defeat in November 2007 when it upheld the legislature’s actions. The Court did not rule that Initiative 601 was unconstitutional. Rather, it held that since voter-approved initiatives have the same status as legislation, the legislature can pass a new law negating an initiative.

During that same month, though, voters approved Initiative 960 which reinstated the two-thirds majority requirement for tax increases and limited the use of “emergency clauses” to circumvent that provision.

When the state senate could not obtain a two-thirds vote for a $10 million liquor tax increase in 2008, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Initiative 960. EFF immediately took legal action, requesting from Senator Brown all correspondence concerning the lawsuit under the state’s open records law. EFF also filed an amicus brief defending the legality of Initiative 960.

In March 2009, the Washington Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit and upheld the supermajority requirement.

Keeping government accountable

EFF employs a variety of tactics to advance its agenda for fiscally responsible and accountable government.

On April 15, 2009, EFF organized a “Tax Day Tea Party” on the steps of the statehouse in Olympia. (The event was one of hundreds held across the nation.) More than 5,000 people came to hear EFF officials call on lawmakers to rein in overspending and deficits. And in August 2009, EFF invoked the state open records law to force Governor Chris Gregoire and the legislature to release documents related to the Governor’s executive order on climate change.

EFF also works to improve the integrity of the election process. In February 2008, it published a study that showed that 108 people younger than 18 had voted in Washington elections since 2000, casting 127 unlawful ballots, including some in the February 2008 presidential primary.