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Colorado AFL-CIO executive director Sam Gilchrist presents the labor union's legislative agenda a the Colorado Capitol in January. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)
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Union-busting Wisconsin group has its dollars in Colorado politics, according to two investigations

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Colorado labor and education are in the crosshairs of an anti-union Wisconsin foundation, according separate investigations by the Center for Media and Democracy and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation that supported the anti-union efforts in support of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (who grew up in Colorado Springs, coincidentally) are spreading their efforts nationwide, starting with Colorado and North Carolina.

There’s nothing illegal or even uncommon about foundations supporting political and social messages, I should point out here.

The May 5 story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel cites documents collected by international hackers. The files showed the conservative foundation was intentionally following the playbook used by wealthy Democrats to make political inroads into Colorado a decade ago.

What’s notable is there’s a new political player writing big checks.

The line starts on the right, operatives.

The Colorado AFL-CIO flagged both reports to reporters’ attention Monday.

A May 8 report by Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy states:

Bradley has given the Colorado-based Independence Institute $1.45 million between 2004-2016, the documents indicate, including multiple grants some years. With the assistance of the Independence Institute, the right-wing Douglas County school board enacted a series of measures, including countywide school vouchers for private and religious schools (later struck down by the courts), plus an end to collective bargaining, teacher tenure, and automatic dues deductions for teachers unions. In 2013, the battle resulted in a high-dollar school board race where unions and the Koch’s Americans for Prosperity group spent heavily.

Bradley has been a big funder of this agenda. In 2015, Bradley gave a grant of $100,000 to Independence Institute for “aggressive education reform,” which Bradley says included “neutralizing the power of Colorado’s teachers’ unions by defunding them at the local school district level” (Independence Institute, Grant Proposal Record, 11/10/15).

Founded by progressive activist and writer John Stauber, the center tends to focus its investigations on corporate and politically conservative targets with little nuance.

It’s no secret that the Independence Institute, the Denver-based libertarian-leaning think tank, takes on unions at every turn, and it depends on anonymous donors to do it.

“We never talk about our donors,” Independence Institute president and CEO Jon Caldara said in an e-mail. “But if Bradley gave us that much money to fight unions, I’d be living on some small island with that cash right now instead.”

The Journal Sentinel reported the foundation has given $575,000 to five groups in Colorado since last year.

“The records make clear the Bradley Foundation no longer simply favors groups promoting its signature issues: taxpayer-funded school choice and increased work requirements for welfare recipients,” wrote reporter Daniel Bice. “It now regularly funds nonprofits that are, among other things, hostile to labor unions, skeptical of climate change or critical of the loosening of sexual mores in American culture.”

Sam Gilchrist, executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, called the foundation’s meddling into Colorado union issues disgusting.

“Wealthy corporations and the organizations that serve them need to stop rigging our political system against hardworking people like the teachers who keep our public education system running,” he said.

“We’re not going to let the Bradley Foundation or the groups they fund get us down. More than ever, working people are coming together to raise wages, protect workers’ rights, and expand the right to organize in Colorado. We will continue to shed a light on outside influence from anti-worker groups in local and state government. We must ensure Colorado politics places the priorities of Colorado working families first.”

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