Illinois pension funds and unions serving public employees have notified members that letters sent to them this spring contained lies and were tied to a national anti-labor campaign funded by Right-wing interests ranging from the Koch brothers to the family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Illinois pension funds and unions serving public employees have notified members that letters sent to them this spring contained lies and were tied to a national anti-labor campaign funded by Right-wing interests ranging from the Koch brothers to the family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

 

Beth Spencer, Communications Manager of the State Universities Retirement System (SURS) in Champaign, said, “SURS was troubled to learn that many recently received a letter from the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) urging you to end your union dues or dues to retirement organizations.

 

“SURS does not support the IPI,” she added.

 

Audrey Edwards, president of the Retirees Chapter of the University Professionals of Illinois (UPI), part of the American Federation of Teachers, warned, “You may receive a letter from the Illinois Policy Institute, an anti-union organization, that contains some serious falsehoods. It alleges that our dues are going to Mike Madigan and urges us to quit our union. The truth: Our UPI dues are never used for partisan political purposes.”

 

Indeed, IPI correspondence conflates routine union expenses for organizing, negotiating and enforcing contracts, etc., with unionists’ voluntary contributions toward political candidates or causes. Those funds are separate, and dues can’t mingle with political donations.

 

“I have belonged for many years to UPI,” Edwards continued. “I pay UPI dues, and I also choose to contribute separately to the Committee on Political Education (COPE), which backs candidates who support union causes. Some of our members pay UPI dues but don’t contribute to COPE. That works, too.

 

“I attend statewide UPI meetings,” she added. “At these meetings, we do not discuss partisan politics. COPE contributors hold a separate meeting to plan political action, including campaign contributions from a completely isolated budget.

 

 “Please don’t be fooled,” she said. “The Illinois Policy Institute, representing business interests, is attempting to weaken the power of unions. Threats loom. We need to stay strong.”

 

IPI runs operations that try to get people to leave their unions, based on 2018’s divisive U.S. Supreme Court “Janus v. AFSCME Council 31” decision. By a 5-4 vote, the Justices ruled that though unions are obligated to fairly represent all workers in a bargaining unit, workers who benefit from unions’ bargaining and representation work need not pay dues (or “fair-share” payments) to cover those costs.

 

Recent communications from the IPI have targeted American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Chicago Teachers Union members, Illinois Education Association members, and workers’ retirement-fund managers.

 

IPI is an ultra-conservative think tank with offices in Springfield and Chicago, and a member of the State Policy Network, according to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), an independent watchdog group based in Madison, Wis.

 

Funded by several Right-wing groups, including the Koch brothers – David and Charles, billionaire owners of Koch Industries, “IPI is listed as a ‘partner organization’ in the Charles Koch Institute’s Liberty@Work program,” CMD reports. “IPI has also received $789,206 from DonorsTrust and $807,750 from Donors Capital Fund between 2010 and 2014, groups with ties to the Kochs.”

 

Another report, from the Center for Public Integrity, reveals DonorsTrust funders, which include the Knowledge and Progress Fund (a Charles Koch-run group), “one of the group’s largest known contributors, having donated at least $8 million since 2005,” CMD added.

 

Other contributors known to have donated at least $1 million to DonorsTrust include the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the John M. Olin Foundation.

 

In 2011 DonorsTrust contributed a total of $86 million to Right-wing organizations, and many recipients had ties to that State Policy Network, CMD says.

 

Meanwhile, the IPI in recent years came under fire from across the political spectrum. IPI helped underwrite the Janus case, and weeks after it was decided, the plaintiff, Mark Janus, quit his job with the state of Illinois and IPI hired him. Last year, the Chicago Sun-Times and Politico in an investigative story titled “As Conservative Group Grows in Influence, Financial Dealings Enrich Its Leaders,” journalists Mick Dumke and Tina Sfondeles reported IPI “attacked political insiders for profiting off the system, [but] IPI CEO John Tillman was able to increase his own bottom line, parlaying a small-government message into growing paychecks for himself and other top staff members.

 

“Through an often-dizzying series of transactions Tillman and his associates have moved millions of dollars around five interconnected nonprofits they run – while steering money to for-profit ventures they have a stake in and growing their paychecks,” they added. Tillman’s “transactions raise ethical questions and could violate the federal tax code for nonprofits.”

 

Shortly afterward, Illinois’ Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner – who’d placed some IPI people in his administration – cut ties with the group and said he was “troubled by what I’ve learned, and I certainly would not give them any more money.”

 

Bill Knight has been a reporter, editor and columnist for more than 50 years. Also an author, Knight is a journalism professor emeritus from WIU, where he taught for more than 20 years. Contact him at bill.knight@hotmail.com; for archives, go to https://mayflyproductions.blogspot.com/.