Remember back in June when Tim Eyman filed a statewide initiative to prevent cities like Seattle from raising the minimum wage above the level set by state law?
Several media outlets, including the Puget Sound Business Journal, erroneously assumed – and then wrongfully reported – that Eyman was already collecting signatures for the measure, when in fact all he had done was attach his name to somebody else’s bad idea as a publicity stunt.
(As we subsequently pointed out, it’s actually not possible to begin collecting signatures for any initiative until it has been assigned a number, ballot title and ballot summary. That hadn’t happened at the time those reports were published).
The following day (June 5th), after reporters had noticed the initiative, Eyman sent out an email explaining that he was “doing research and development”.
As for [sic] our Fair and Uniform Minimum Wage Initiative is concerned, our goal is to illustrate to the small business owners and other concerned citizens a smart, effective initiative proposal that gives everyone in Washington a voice in the economic future of our state. For those interested, we have attached the final text for it.
Later in June, as it became apparent that Eyman’s I-1325 was headed for the dustbin and would not qualify for the November 2014 ballot, we began hearing that Eyman was approaching people opposed to the minimum wage increase approved in Seattle and SeaTac, and trying to involve himself in their efforts to seek its repeal. More recently, however, we received concrete evidence – in the form of a memo – that Eyman wants to spearhead a combined effort himself.
This memo, which The Seattle Post-Intelligencer‘s Joel Connelly reported on a couple of days ago, reads like a poorly written investment prospectus. Its target audience is representatives of lobbying groups and businesspeople with access to money. It asks for $1.1 million to qualify the aforementioned scheme to prevent cities from setting their own minimum wages as an initiative to the Legislature, and another $1.1 million to sell the initiative to the voters, assuming it gets on the ballot.
It begins as follows:
August 18th, 2014
To: Supporters of the Fair & Uniform Minimum Wage Initiative PAC
From: Tim Eyman
Here’s our situation in Washington state:
PROBLEM: The $15 minimum wage has been passed in SeaTac, Seattle, and Port of Seattle and continues to spread (Tacoma, Olympia, Bellingham, and other cities). The good guys have been fighting back city-by-city. They’ve failed every time. A legislative bill in Olympia on state preemption was introduced last session and it went nowhere.
SOLUTION: A statewide initiative to the Legislature has been already been filed by Fernando Neuenschwander of Seattle. The signature drive for it can begin immediately – its ballot title reads: This measure would require the minimum wage to be uniform and consistent statewide for the employees of all employers subject to Washington’s Minimum Wage Act, and prohibit any conflicting local minimum wage requirements. Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ].
Just to reiterate, the sentence “prohibit any conflicting local minimum wage requirements” in the ballot title excerpted above means prevent cities like Seattle and SeaTac from setting higher minimum wages. It is the latest in a long line of Eyman initiatives that assail home rule and local control.
It should be noted that in the case of SeaTac, the minimum wage was increased by popular vote, whereas in Seattle, public opinion research shows that the ordinance passed by the city council and signed by Mayor Ed Murray is popular.
Why, exactly, is Eyman so bent on overturning the will of the people (and the people’s representatives) in jurisdictions where he doesn’t even reside?
The answer is simple: He sees an opportunity to make a nice pile of money and get back in the business community’s good graces after burning them two years ago, when he reportedly used money intended for I-1185 to qualify I-517.
It is ironic that Eyman is seeking to profit from a running an initiative that would cut the pay of thousands of Washingtonians. If there is anyone left who still wrongly thinks that Tim Eyman is a champion for the common man, they ought to read this memo. Eyman is nothing but a charlatan. He masquerades as a populist in public while courting businesses and their lobbyists as clients.
And with this latest gambit, he wants to make big bucks while rolling back the hard-won gains of some of Washington’s lowest-paid workers. No inhabitant of the State of Washington personifies greed better than Tim Eyman does.
In the next part of the memo, Eyman claims that in order to be successful, he needs lots of money, and he needs it fast:
TIMELINE: We have from now until the end of the December to collect the necessary signatures (the public vote on it will be November, 2015). However, this signature drive has to be done quickly. The Seattle referendum failed to qualify because the business groups pushing it made a rookie mistake: their fundraising was deathly slow, putting the signature drive on a slow roll-out, giving the SEIU and other opponents time to counterattack with blockers (people who stand around the petitioner and scare away signers). That radically drove up their costs and eventually shut down their signature drive. Our plan is to have our signature drive start on September 1 and end on October 31. That gives opponents very little time to react. But since it is a “pedal to the metal” strategy, it requires all funding to be available upfront.
COST: $2.2 million. $1.1 million for the fall 2014 signature drive, minimum $1.1 million for the fall 2015 campaign.
Actually, the main reason the signature drive for the Seattle referendum ended in failure was that there were a very high number of invalid and fraudulent signatures submitted by the petitioners who were hired to gather the signatures.
The firm that employed those petitioners and was awarded the contract to run the signature drive for Forward Seattle is none other than Citizen Solutions, the troubled company operated by Eyman’s buddy Roy Ruffino, and the same that Eyman has used for years for his initiatives’ signature drives.
No doubt Eyman is planning to give Citizen Solutions the contract for the statewide initiative he is attempting to sell in this memo – or arrange for them to get it.
The memo provides no details on how the $2.2 million that Eyman is requesting would be spent. Tellingly, there is no budget and no campaign plan (which a true political professional would offer as part of a pitch to a prospective client).
And that’s because this is a scam.
$1.1 million is a lot of money – a lot more than would be needed to run a signature drive for a statewide initiative, particularly one that begins so far advance of the deadline to submit signatures and doesn’t face competition from other campaigns for petitioner labor. How do we know? Because we’ve been watchdogging Tim Eyman’s initiative factory and investigating the shady, underground signature gathering industry for over twelve years.
We know from talking to petitioners and crew chiefs involved with I-1185 and I-517 two years ago that they were only being paid a dollar a signature, and that was for a drive that didn’t start until springtime. Sherry Bockwinkel’s PDC complaint alleging lawbreaking on the part of Eyman’s I-517 campaign committee was even accompanied by signed affidavits attesting to this.
We can see from looking at PDC records that more than $1.2 million was spent by the I-1185 campaign. Of that, $1,173,324.99 went to Citizen Solutions.
But there’s no way that the signature drive actually cost that much.
Again, we know that petitioners were being paid $1.00 a signature by Rob Harwig, Citizen Solutions’ main subcontractor – ultimately, seventy-five cents for a I-1185 signature and twenty-five cents for a I-517 signature.
The Secretary of State reported that 320,003 signatures were submitted for I-1185. If, for the sake of argument, we assume the signature drive had overhead of twenty-five percent (twenty-five cents a signature) – which seems awfully high – we end up with a total cost of $400,003.75. Even if we assume there was an additional $100,000 in overhead, that still leaves over half a million dollars unaccounted for.
What happened to the rest of the $1,173,324.99? Where did it go? We know it didn’t go to the petitioners. Perhaps some went to the subcontractors.
But most of the money, we suspect, ended up in the pockets of Tim Eyman, Roy Ruffino, and Eddie “Spaghetti” Agazarm. It seems they all made out like bandits from that campaign. And now, they want to do it again.
No person or business who cares about what happens to their money should give Tim Eyman so much as a cent. Eyman has proven time and again that he is completely unworthy of anyone’s trust.
Twelve and a half years ago, we found out Eyman had been helping himself to his campaign’s bank account, taking donations for his own personal use, and then repeatedly lying about it. The Public Disclosure Commission investigated, concluded Eyman broke the law, and asked Attorney General Chris Gregoire to take Eyman to court, which she did. Eyman subsequently settled with the state, paying a $50,000 fine and agreeing never again to serve as campaign treasurer.
That incident should have ended Tim Eyman’s political career and scared off anyone from giving to him. But unfortunately, it didn’t.
Eyman’s fundraising did suffer, preventing him from qualifying an initiative to the ballot the following year (2003) but Eyman rebounded in 2004 by convincing the gambling industry to fund an initiative that would have legalized electronic slot machines outside of tribal reservations. It was soundly rejected by voters.
As the I-892 campaign was being waged, Eyman found a new wealthy benefactor who would go on to provide the vast majority of the money for his next five initiatives: investment banker Michael Dunmire. In 2010, with Dunmire unwilling or unable to continue providing more than three-fourths of the money Eyman needed to buy his way onto the ballot, he turned to the Association of Washington Business, which acted as a bundler for I-1053 that year and I-1185 two years later.
In between, in 2011, Eyman qualified an anti-light rail, anti-tolling initiative to the ballot with Kemper Freeman’s money, which voters defeated.
There have been two other notable instances when Eyman made pacts with other interests to spearhead ballot measures, using their money and resources and acting as the salesman. The first was in 2000, when, in addition to qualifying I-722 to the ballot (I-722 sought to impose restrictions on property taxes), Eyman worked with the asphalt pavers’ lobby to qualify I-745 for the ballot. I-745 attempted to redirect ninety percent of transportation funding to road-building and highway expansion. It was the first Eyman initiative to be defeated by voters.
In 2006, Eyman teamed up with fundamentalist theocons like Ken Hutcherson (the founder of the Antioch Bible Church) to push a referendum seeking to overturn Washington’s historic new law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, it failed to make the ballot.
Remarkably, so did Eyman’s other scheme that year – Initiative 917, which sought to repeal vehicle weight fees enacted as part of the 2005 Transportation Package.
I say remarkably because I-917 was the second of the five aforementioned initiatives underwritten by Michael Dunmire and the only Eyman initiative to fail to qualify due to mismanagement as opposed to lack of resources.
Eyman had the money to buy his way on to the ballot (he had access to Dunmire’s checkbook), but inexplicably, he did not collect enough extra signatures to ensure I-917 had a cushion to offset invalid and duplicate signatures.
However, he claimed he had.
On turn-in day, Eyman announced he had submitted 300,353 signatures. But after tallying up the signatures on all the petitions they had – twice! – the Secretary of State said that only 266,034 signatures had been submitted.
The question now was whether enough of those signatures were valid. To find out, the Secretary of State was forced to undertake (at taxpayer expense!) a full check of all the submitted signatures, as opposed to a random sample check.
Eyman accused the Secretary of State of “pilfering” nonexistent petitions, ostensibly to shift blame away from himself and his associates. But no one bought this story, not even people sympathetic to Eyman’s cause. (Conservative talk show host John Carlson had to urge Eyman to stop making baseless allegations against the Secretary of State’s office, held then and now by a Republican.)
Eyman was forced to admit that neither he nor his associates had made photocopies of the petitions before submitting them, or kept any records that would authenticate his claims. They had weighed the boxes the petitions were kept in, but they wrote the numbers on the boxes, which were recycled. (Some professional!)
A few weeks later, we caught Eyman in yet another lie after we compared a letter Eyman had sent to his supporters in August trying to explain I-917’s problems with contradictory emails and public statements made at a press conference in June.
Given Eyman’s long history of lying, repeatedly flouting our state’s public disclosure laws, and running sloppy, unprofessional campaigns, he ought to have been reduced to a political pariah a long time ago. Sadly, he’s managed to keep his lucrative initiative factory going by persuading people to write big checks to him.
That didn’t happen this year, which is wonderful, but an Eyman-free ballot needs to become the norm, not the exception to the norm.
As I said above, no one, no matter their political ideology, should trust Tim Eyman or give Tim Eyman money to do anything. Anyone who has received this memo from Eyman, along with phone calls and emails asking for money, should politely respond with a strong, firm, “No thanks, Tim. We’re not interested.”