How Liz Cheney Is Funding the War on Labor Rights in Ohio

Dick Cheney was once a union man—after flunking out of Yale, the future vice president worked as an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers lineman in Wyoming—but now his daughter is leading the fight to destroy unions in America.

The essential battle for organized labor in America this fall is in the state of Ohio, where voters will go to the polls in just three weeks to decide whether to overturn anti-labor legislation that Governor John Kasich and a Republican-controlled legislature forced on the state last spring.

If the anti-labor law is upheld, Kasich will be thanking Liz Cheney. The daughter of the former vice president has—along with former White House political czar Karl Rove—taken a leading role among the out-of-state groups that are raising money and implementing media campaigns to support the law.

Heavy spending by a group Cheney heads, in combination with spending by other corporate-allied national groups, offers Kasich the only hope he's got for winning a fight that is turning uglier by the day. And don't doubt for a moment that Dick Cheney's a part of this push; Liz Cheney has throughout her adult life worked closely with her father (she helped him prepare and promote his autobiography) and Liz's sister, Mary Cheney, says: "I think you'd be hard-pressed to find any daylight at all between Liz's and my father's views. It's not because she's been indoctrinated. It's because he's right."

Reasonable people might debate whether "he's right." But there's no doubt that the Cheneys are playing hardball in Ohio.

In so doing, they are positioning Liz Cheney as a major mover on the political right—since the state-based fights in Wisconsin and Ohio are major concerns of the corporations that fund conservative causes.

After the anti-labor law was enacted earlier this year, Ohioans reacted with passionate opposition to the gutting of collective bargaining rights for public employees. They were frightened by the threat the law posed to the ability of unions to advocate for firefighters, police officers, teachers and other public employees in the workplace, and to the prospect that weakened unions would be unable to counter corporate spin at election time. More than 1.3 million Ohioans signed petitions to put a veto referendum on the ballot. And polls from last summer indicated that likely voters were overwhelming opposed to Kasich's law.

Now, however, the fight over Issue 2, the referendum on whether to keep the anti-labor legislation on the books, is getting closer. Polls still show that most voters intend to cast "No on 2" ballots, indicating their rejection of the law and their desire that Ohio again respect collective bargaining rights. But the margin has narrowed in recent weeks, thanks to the millions of dollars being spent by corporate interests to try to save the law and, in so doing, to shore up Kasich's diminished political fortunes.

Acknowledged spending in Ohio by groups on both sides of the issue has already topped $3 million and, with three weeks to go before November 8, the big-money moment is yet to come. "We are spending a significant amount of money on the airwaves," Melissa Fazekas, the spokeswoman for the labor-backed We Are Ohio campaign said last week. "But we do think we'll be outspent at the end of the day."

That's a safe bet, as national corporate and conservative groups are rushing to defend Kasich and his anti-union policies. The Columbus Dispatch suggests that overall spending by groups that back the anti-labor law could easily top $20 million.

Liz Cheney's Alliance for America's Future is one of the most aggressive of the out-of-state special interest groups that have elbowed their way into the referendum fight. Cheney's group is part of a shadowy network of campaign organizations in which Dick's daughter serves as a principle operative. Another is called the "Partnership for America's Future," and in 2010, Cheney headed a group called "Send Harry Packing," which targeted Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. Some of the organizations are 527s, which means they must disclose contributions; others are 501(c)(4) organizations, which means they do not have to disclose the identities of donors. They trade money back and forth, and according to Public Citizen's Taylor Lincoln: "The Partnership for America's Future—whose principals include Mary Cheney, daughter of the former vice president—registered as a 527, just as American Crossroads initially did. But it simply reports that it receives all of its money from the Alliance for America's Future. The 'Alliance' is registered as a 501(c)(4)—enabling it and the groups to which it funnels money to operate under the cloak of secrecy."

How much Cheney's groups will spend in Ohio remains to be seen. But there is no question that they deal in big money. In 2010, Cheney told CBS News that her groups were budgeted to spend between $12 million and $15 million.

With a track record of backing Republicans 100 percent of the time, Cheney's groups are hyper-partisan, and they have frequently gotten in trouble for stretching the truth to score political points.

That's certainly been the case in Ohio.

Cheney's group began last month to flood Ohio with deceptive mailings that claim "voting yes on Issue 2 will give our communities the ability to get spending under control without raising taxes."

A mailing that just went out statewide declared: "We just can't afford to pay 100 percent of government employee benefits too."

"In this tough economy," the mailing continues, "it's just not fair to ask taxpayers to pay even more for salaries and benefits for government employees." Voting yes on Issue 2, it says, "means that government employees will make modest contributions to their benefits" by paying "at least 15 percent toward their health insurance coverage" and "just 10 percent toward their own retirement."

A Cleveland Plain Dealer PolitiFact Ohio review of the mailing concluded that it was "problematic" because the piece "leaves out important details needed to put the statement in context." Ultimately, the analysis concluded that the Cheney mailing rated "Half True" on its "Truth-O-Meter."

But it's worse than that.

The real lie is one of omission. What the Cheney mailings don't say is that the law undermines basic labor rights, eliminates effective collective bargaining and encourages communities to balance budgets on the backs of firefighters, police officers and teachers. Nor does Cheney mention that the cuts will undermine public services and public education at a time when Ohio cities have been rocked by factory closings and rising unemployment.

Of course, Liz Cheney is not concerned about the harm done to Ohioans and their communities by Kasich's law.

Cheney lives in northern Virginia, and she sends her kids to one of the most elite private schools in the country. She's weighing her political options, having already been talked up as a potential US Senate candidate.

Every campaign starts somewhere, however, and Liz Cheney has decided to wade into electoral politics as a champion of corporations who is willing to fund the drive to eliminate collective bargaining rights and wipe out trade unions.

The Nation, Tues Oct 18 2011

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