Suit: Washington AG Colluded with Unions

Think tank says Trump opponent redacted emails to cover up coziness with labor groups

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson / Getty Images
February 17, 2019

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson tried to cover up his office's collusion with labor unions after a think tank asked for public records about their communications, according to a lawsuit.

Ferguson is one of several Democrats seeking to resist the Trump administration's directive that would prohibit states from siphoning Medicaid payments away from at-home caregivers and putting them in the pockets of labor unions, such as Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

The Freedom Foundation, a Washington state pro-free market think tank, requested public records about the attorney general's communications with major public sector unions relating to the policy. In return, it received pages of emails from Ferguson's office. The bodies of those messages were reduced to black ink, nearly everything redacted except for the salutations and signatures of the senders.

Now the foundation is suing for the full records, saying that the government is covering up its collusion with powerful labor organizations.

"Defendant Bob Ferguson and his Office are illegally ignoring the [Public Records Act] to hide a political relationship between two powerful special interest groups," the lawsuit obtained by the Washington Free Beacon says. "This Court should order the records to be disclosed immediately."

Ferguson's press office did not respond to requests for comment about the public records request or the nature of his relationship with unions.

In July, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued new rules that would prevent state governments from requiring home health aides, many of whom are caring for relatives, to pay a portion of their Medicaid reimbursements to labor organizations. Labor unions receive at least $71 million each year from such payments even after the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that such a forced dues scheme in Illinois violated the Constitution.

"The law provides that Medicaid providers must be paid directly and cannot have part of their payments diverted to third parties outside of a few very specific exceptions," Acting Director Tim Hill said in a release announcing the rule. "This proposed rule is intended to ensure that providers receive their complete payment, and any circumstances in which a state does divert part of a provider’s payment must be clearly allowed under the law."

Ferguson's office has been one of the most ambitious in filing lawsuits against the Trump administration, leading the high-profile lawsuit against the executive order restricting travel from seven majority-Muslim nations. Maxford Nelsen, a labor policy expert at the Freedom Foundation, said the attorney general's actions in this case are centered on advancing the interests of his political allies, rather than any concern for taxpayers or home health aides.

"The Washington Attorney General will be using tax dollars to try and avoid having to disclose documents showing how his office is using tax dollars to protect unions' ability to seize tax dollars from Medicaid," Nelsen said. "The whole situation is exhibit A of the collusion taking place between Left Coast state governments and the unions they rely on for political support. The losers in this relationship are taxpayers and, in this case, home caregivers."

The think tank is now seeking damages if the state continues to bury the documents. The lawsuit asks the court to force the state to pay $100 each day for every page that it withholds from public view.