The Mackinac Center was honored to win the inaugural Bob Williams Award for Best State-Based Litigation at this year’s State Policy Network Annual Meeting in Chicago. Each year, SPN celebrates the successes of select think tanks. These awards recognize achievement in the categories of Biggest Win for Freedom, Best Issue Campaign, Most Influential Research and Biggest Home State Win. This year, the State Policy Network added an award for Best State-Based Litigation.
SPN recognized the Mackinac Center for holding the Michigan Education Association and its health insurance affiliate, MESSA, accountable after they fraudulently took more than $12.5 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds. These funds were meant to help businesses stay afloat and pay their employees during government-mandated shutdowns in 2020.
The MEA and MESSA were clearly ineligible to receive these funds due to their tax status as 501(c)(5) and 501(C)(9) entities, respectively. But they applied anyway. The MEA received $6.4 million and MESSA received $6.1 million. The funds from this program ran out within weeks, leaving many Michigan businesses without any financial support.
We used a novel legal strategy by filing our lawsuit under the federal False Claims Act, which ensured not only that the union was held accountable, but that the taxpayer dollars wrongfully taken would be repaid. The MEA and MESSA had already returned the PPP loans when we filed. But the Department of Justice ordered them to pay an additional $200,000 in reimbursements and fines to the federal government. The Mackinac Center received $77,000 in attorneys fees for uncovering the wrongdoing.
This wasn’t the first time we’ve gone toe-to-toe with unions. When we created the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation nearly 15 years ago, its inaugural lawsuit uncovered a unionization scheme that forced tens of thousands of home-based day care providers to pay union dues. Since then, the Mackinac Center has been proud to work through the courts to stand up for what’s right. This has meant establishing teachers’ right to resign from their union at any time, challenging state entities that refuse transparency requests, defending parents who want the best education for their kids, and protecting ten million Michigan residents against executive overreach.
It was a privilege to be recognized for our legal work alongside two other nominees with remarkable success stories, our fellow Midwestern friends at the Buckeye Institute and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. We are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our fellow litigation centers in the continued fight for justice and accountability.
Bob Williams Award Acceptance Speech
Patrick J. Wright
Given August 30, 2023, in Chicago, Illinois
Thank you! On behalf of the Mackinac Center, it’s an honor to accept the inaugural Bob Williams award for litigation.
Our movement stands at a seminal moment. We face threats greater than ever before. To overcome these threats, we must be more creative.
This insight drove our case. We discovered that Michigan’s largest teachers union went to unprecedented lengths to defraud taxpayers. All told, the union stole more than $12.5 million from Americans.
The union thought no one would notice, much less hold them accountable. But we did. We found a creative solution to a newfound problem – and our lawsuit compelled the union to make taxpayers whole.
This is a model for our movement. We fundamentally believe that markets give rise to the best ideas. But we also need to push ourselves to find new, better and unbeatable solutions.
In this new era, we need to be artists, not just activists. And the Mackinac Center is more committed than ever to create a masterpiece of freedom and opportunity, together with you.
Thank you again.