University of Michigan LSA senior Jacob Chludzinski and Michigan alum Grant Strobl launched ThinkRight Strategies over the summer with one simple goal: “two advance conservative principles of free enterprise.” Their political consulting firm provides counsel to conservative politicians, lawmakers and special interest groups.
However, their intention to provide political counsel to conservative actors quickly progressed into a legal conflict in July, after the Chludzinski and Strobl sued the city in federal court over Ann Arbor’s public accommodations laws.
Ann Arbor’s city ordinance stipulates businesses cannot discriminate based on political beliefs. Strobl and Chludzinski, aiming to establish a conservative firm, were concerned the law would force them to promote political viewpoints and support clients who held views antithetical to their own.
Chludzinski explained they decided to sue the city as a preventative measure, to protect their consulting firm from the threat of legal action on the part of the city.
“Every American should be free to choose which political beliefs they will promote,” Chludzinski said. “So, instead of waiting to be punished, we decided to take a stand for freedom for ourselves and others — even those whose political views we oppose.”
In response to the lawsuit, the city ruled that ThinkRight be categorized as a special interest consulting group, exempting it from the public accommodations law. As a result, the court dismissed the case.
Chludzinski expressed appreciation for the city’s decision, citing it allowed him and his business partner the freedom to tailor their firm in the way they saw fit.
“Grant and I are selective about the causes and messages we will promote through our services,” Chludzinski said. “That means that we are now free to promote our conservative beliefs without the government forcing us to also promote political beliefs we oppose.”
In the lawsuit, it was established ThinkRight “cannot accept a project that requires it to promote messages, causes or political platforms that violate its faith or contradict its conservative political beliefs.”
City Attorney Stephen Postema represented the city of Ann Arbor on the case. In an interview with The Daily, he explained ThinkRight’s case was unnecessary, as the city had never argued they would be forced to represent individuals holding views in opposition to them.
“The city never believed that the ordinance would apply to the plaintiffs or that they were in violation of the ordinance,” Postema said. “There was not any city enforcement action against them or even any threatened enforcement against them. In fact, the city had never heard about the plaintiffs’ claims until the city was served with a lawsuit … In the end, there was no actual legal controversy to burden the court with. So, the plaintiffs correctly dismissed their case.”
Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor echoed Postema’s assertion, explaining city officials were caught off guard by the lawsuit being filed in the first place. Taylor said neither he nor Postema had received any contact from ThinkRight Strategies before the consulting group took legal action.
“There was no interaction prior to the lawsuit,” Taylor said. “There was absolutely no enforcement action against them. There was, as far as I know, no knowledge of their existence prior to the lawsuit. No cease and desist letter, no communication threatening one thing or another.”
According to the website of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian conservative group which funded ThinkRight’s case, the lawsuit was filed in response to Ann Arbor’s city ordinance. However, after the lawsuit was filed, there was little, if any, legal pushback by the city based on the non-discrimination ordinance, Taylor said.
“There was never any threat of enforcement against the group,” he told The Daily.
Taylor also referenced the 57-page lawsuit itself, which includes extensive background on the origins of both Strobl and Chludzinski’s conservative beliefs, as well as on their creation of ThinkRight itself.
“If you read the complaint, it sounds a lot more like somebody’s ‘About Us’ page on the website than a complaint actually seeking remedy against actual harm,” Taylor said.