June 26. 2018 2:16PM

Group of GOP lawmakers challenge nonprofit status of Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity

By DAVE SOLOMON
New Hampshire Union Leader


Charles Koch and brother David Koch are pictured in this undated combination photo. (Reuthers/Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce)

CONCORD — A group of Republican state representatives is challenging the nonprofit status of the conservative policy group Americans for Prosperity after it targeted some of them in an “accountability campaign” for their votes against right-to-work legislation.

Seven legislators signed a letter to Attorney General Gordon MacDonald and Secretary of State William Gardner, describing targeted AFP political mailings and asking if the campaign complies with the requirements for operating as a non-profit in New Hampshire.

“Based on AFP’s targeted political advertisements against public officials and/or candidates, should AFP be required to register with the state as a political committee based on their political activities?” the June 25 letter states.

“They claim that they do not endorse candidates. We will test this claim,” said Rep. Sean Morrison, R-Epping, one of the representatives targeted in the campaign.

Morrisson, a Hampton firefighter, is a member of the Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire union.

AFP announced weeks ago that it would be conducting a campaign to call out lawmakers who voted against right-to-work, one of the group’s policy priorities for years. Right-to-work legislation prohibits unions from collecting any money from non-members, even the so-called “agency fee” for the cost of representation.

“Ultimately right-to-work is a huge issue for us,” said Greg Moore, AFP state director. “We are absolutely committed to making New Hampshire the 29th right-to-work state in the nation.” Every two years, the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity asks all legislators to sign a five-part pledge that includes support for right-to-work.

Gov. Chris Sununu was also a strong proponent of the bill, which cleared the Senate but was defeated 200-177 in the House in 2017, when 36 Republicans joined a united Democratic caucus.

Seven of those Republicans signed the letter to the attorney general and secretary of state. In addition to Morrison, the letter was signed by Matthew Scruton of Rochester, Michael McCarthy of Nashua, Jason Janvrin of Seabrook, Philip Bean of Hampton, Mark Proulx of Manchester and Marty Bove of Londonderry.

In their letter, they attach copies of mailers targeting Scruton, Bean, Janvrin, Proulx and Morrison, citing their vote “to side with union bosses instead of with Governor Sununu” and against “freedom to join a union or not; freedom to refuse payment to a union; saving more of our hard earned money.”

“We believe that AFP is intentionally avoiding reporting requirements by registering as a social welfare organization while acting, in fact, as a political committee by targeting individual public officials and candidates that do not support the AFP agenda,” the letter states.

In addition to the mailer and a web-based campaign, AFP volunteers are going door to door, criticizing reps for their vote against right-to-work, and for paid family medical leave, calling it a vote for an income tax, according to Morrison.

“They are going around with a picture of Sununu on one side and me on the other asking my neighbors, ‘Did you know Morrison voted for an income tax,’ talking about family medical leave,” said Morrison.

Moore said he is confident the campaign is consistent with the AFP designation as a 501(c)4 “social welfare organization.”

“A 501(C)4 is allowed to engage in advocacy and political activity as long as it’s not its major purpose,” said Moore. “This is issue advocacy, which is fully protected under the First Amendment. Nowhere in the mailer will you see that we are calling for the election or defeat of any of these guys. All we are asking is for the constituents to reach out to these reps and ask them why they oppose right-to-work.”

The seven representatives see it differently.

“We believe these paid advertisements are politically targeted attacks against individuals in office or candidates that violate the requirements for a social welfare organization doing business in New Hampshire.”

dsolomon@unionleader.com



The letter can be viewed below: