By Collin Reischman
Jefferson City, Mo. — As the historic Republican majority hits the ground running with a conservative legislative agenda, there are fewer groups or individuals working harder to fight back than Progress Missouri, a progressive advocacy organization that seeks to halt the conservative agenda.
Executive Director, Sean Nicholson, is not too popular with the Republican power brokers in the Capitol. Nicholson and his group focus on a media strategy of exposing, filming or recording Republican lawmakers at events and hearings and posting the material online.
“Our feeling is that these are public hearings, in a public building,” Nicholson said. “Don’t the people have a right to know what their lawmakers are saying about Right to Work, or voter ID’s or Medicaid?”
Nicholson’s operation sometimes has an “undercover,” aspect. Progress Missouri secretly recorded a strategy session last week in the Capitol building, where conservative lawmakers were meeting “corporate front groups,” to discuss Right to Work legislation.
The audio recording revealed a discussion of cutting fundraising for Republicans who refused to vote in favor of the campaign. There was also suggestions that “big money,” from unspecified out-of-state sources would be available to finance the Right to Work campaign and the candidates who pushed for its passage.
“The key is the fundraising threat,” Nicholson said. “It’s just wrong, it’s wrong, to threaten your members with cutting off funds if they vote to be pro-worker instead of casting an anti-worker vote with their party.”
Nicholson said his aim isn’t to target specific lawmakers or policies, but rather to disclose to voters the discussions surrounding the issues and inform voters so then they can decide for themselves.
“The extremism and the silliness is allowed to exist largely because the public doesn’t know what is happening,” Nicholson said.
Prior to helping found Progress Missouri, Nicholson worked for Kennedy Communications Inc., as a strategist for a number of Democratic campaigns. When he came back to Missouri, he thought it would be important to advocate for “strong, broad, progressive issues,” by utilizing new media and technology.
“It’s fascinating that so many of these Senators and Representatives describe themselves as freedom loving, but they push-back so hard against public exposure,” Nicholson said. According to him, Senate committee chairmen can exercise discretion in allowing media outlets to video record or photograph public hearings, which he called a “clear violation of Missouri Sunshine law.”
“Simple documentation is a key piece of our strategy,” Nicholson said.