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Government, Politics & Issues

Politically Speaking: Ryan Johnson charts course for Missouri Alliance for Freedom

Ryan Johnson
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Ryan Johnson

On this week’s edition of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies are pleased to welcome Missouri Alliance for Freedom’s Ryan Johnson to the program for the first time.

Johnson is the executive director of Missouri Alliance for Freedom, a nonprofit 501(c)(4) that aims to pass conservative legislation through the Missouri General Assembly. As a 501(c)(4) –the name refers to a classification in the IRS code –the alliance does not have to identify its donors.

Over the past few months, Missouri Alliance for Freedom has been heavily involved in the legislative debate over “right to work” – and has criticized GOP lawmakers who declined to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of the measure.

More recently, Johnson’s group questioned the University of Missouri's police department’s call for students to report any “hateful or hurtful speech” to authorities. That directive also attracted scrutiny from the Missouri branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization that questioned whether such advice ran afoul of free speech rights.

Johnson grew up in the Kansas City area, but both of his parents hail from north St. Louis County. His political activity included a stint working for GOP consultant Jeff Roe, also from Kansas City, who now heads the presidential campaign of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Here’s what Johnson had to say during the show:

  • He defends his group's decision to be a 501(c)(4) saying among other things that classification is needed to allow donors to avoid "political retribution ... The concept of donor relations is sacrosanct," and their anonymity should be honored, if they wish. "You have people who are earnestly giving money to affect and impact the public policy space," he said. "Anonymous political speech is as old as the Republic itself."
  • His group supports some ethics proposals, including those to limit or ban lobbyists gifts, and to curb the "open door'' that allows legislators to leave office and immediately become lobbyists.
  • His group is a strong advocate of "right-to-work" legislation, which would bar employers and unions from requiring all workers in a bargaining unit to pay union dues. But Johnson says it's not clear if the issue -- the marquee debate during the past legislative session -- will come up in the 2016 session. Some conservatives call for waiting until 2017 to resurrect the issue.

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow Ryan Johnson on Twitter: @RyanJohnsonMO

Music: “Sit Down. Stand Up” by Radiohead

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