Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Right wing petitioners resorting to desperate tactics in final days

With less than two weeks to go before the deadline arrives for turning in initiative petitions to qualify for the ballot this fall, a couple of right wing signature drives are in full swing.

The campaigns for Initiative 920 (which would repeal the estate tax) and Initiative 933 (which would create loopholes for developers) are working furiously to gather signatures, mostly through paid petitioners under the employ of Tim Eyman's cohort Roy Ruffino, who runs a business called "Citizen Solutions".

The petitioners are showing up everywhere, and they're doing anything and everything they possibly can to get signatures, including lying about the initiatives they want Washingtonians to sign on to.

As The Stranger's "unpaid intern", Sarah Mirk, discovered:
Tipster Kendra called to say she ran into some petitioners for I-920 (which would repeal the WA estate tax) outside the Safeway on 15th and Harrison who weren’t telling the whole truth. Big surprise in politics, right? Still, she claimed the signature gatherers told her that the estate tax affects every income bracket and when she loudly accused them of being liars, they called over Safeway security. The grocery cop heard the complaint and then told Kendra, "Keep up the good work!"
After hearing from Kendra, Sarah decided to approach the petitioner herself, and recounts the conversation she had in this report.

Sarah and Kendra's experiences are not isolated cases. Permanent Defense has been receiving a truckload of reports from progressive activists and other citizens who have reported the shady and desperate tactics of right wing petitioners. Here are a few snippets from the many reports we've received:

Said Patty Murray supported it and that it would take no money from education.


He told me I didn't believe in democracy by not signing


He got really weird and fast-talky and tried to distract me when I asked who was sponsoring the bill, who was funding everything, who was paying him, etc.


Said the estate tax only pays for Washington Education Legacy Trust, construed the trust to be a specialized scholarhip fund for rich kids.


He said that I-920 would save family farms, and that the threshold was $600,000.


That the estate tax was not about the Super Rich, that they are untouchable and will always keep their money so repealing the tax didn't really help them at all. He said that this tax was an attack on the middle class. That the tax was on estates as low as 750,000 and that if I owned a house in the Capital Hill area I could lose it to the tax. He told the woman next to me (before I could engage him in conversation) that this was the tax that took away everything that good people worked for all of their lives.


She said that the estate tax was against property rights. Very persistent even though I refused to sign the first time.
Again, this is just a tiny sampling of the large numbers of reports that we've received about petitioners lying about Initiative 920, harassing or bullying citizens into signing, and not complying with state law.

I-920 isn't the only initiative being circulated, either. I-933 is also in active circulation, as are petitions for two other right initiatives (I-917 and I-946) which aren't widespread - though the Seattle Times did report yesterday morning that the I-946 campaign is complaining that its petitioners are being told to stop gathering signatures in parks. (Roy Ruffino is also quoted in the article).

Besides posting the report excerpted above, Sarah also recently wrote a good article for The Stranger explaining the danger of these four right wing initiatives, and she was kind enough to include links to Permanent Defense and Washington Defense in it.

In these final days, it is absolutely critical that progressive activists keep their eyes and ears open. If you spot right wing signature gathering activity, report it immediately here.

As a citizen, you have as the right to discourage voters to sign right wing petitions. Remember that the other side does not have a monopoly on the First Amendment. Exercise your free speech rights and deconstruct lies and misleading claims for other voters whenever you get the opportunity.

Permanent Defense has buttons available that you can add to your own blog or website pointing to the reporting tool. The smaller version of the button is on the Official Blog's sidebar (to your right) while Permanent Defense's main page has been using the larger version.

Feel free to download either or both:

Report Right Wing Signature Gathering Activity
(Smaller version - 14 KB)

Report Right Wing Signature Gathering Activity

(Larger version - 16 KB)

You can also pass out literature. Here's links to some flyers you can print at home and take with you when you leave your house, in the event you run into right wing signature gatherers:
  • Initiative 920 Informative Flyer. This handout describes how I-920 hurts our public education system and who's behind it. Produced by the Committee to Protect Our Children's Legacy and made available by Washington Defense.
  • Initiative 933 Informative Flyer. This handout helps voters understand what I-933 is really about, tagging it as the "Too Many Questions and Loopholes" initiative. Produced by the Community Protection Coalition (of which Permanent Defense is a member) and made available by Permanent Defense.
  • Initiative 917 Informative Flyer. This handout explains the significant consequences of repealing nearly three billion dollars of statewide transportation funding. Originally produced by Keep Washington Rolling, improved and released by Permanent Defense.
Your activism - no matter how you choose to get involved - makes a huge difference.

While it's definitely worthwhile to mount decline to sign campaigns, the reality is that we are likely going to be facing a trifecta of threats this November anyway. I-917, I-920, and I-933 all have wealthy backers with deep pockets. We've said this many times, but it's always worth saying again: if you have half a million dollars to spend, you can buy your way onto the ballot, no matter what your issue or ideology.

Of the three signature drives, the one we're currently receiving the most reports for is Initiative 920. That's because Dennis Falk and his funder Martin Selig (the prolific Seattle developer) have paid for a massive, last minute, all out effort to collect signatures in the hopes of qualifying I-920. And they've still got time left.

Expect I-920 to qualify, despite early tactical mistakes in the campaign by Falk. Selig's money is probably going to put this piece of garbage over the top.

The next initiative with the most reports is I-933. The initiative is being circulated alone, but it's also being bundled with I-920. This is not a surprise, of course, since both campaigns have hired Roy Ruffino and Citizen Solutions to run their signature drives.

The third initiative likely to qualify, Tim Eyman's I-917, isn't currently being reported to our system at all. We suspect this is because Tim Eyman already has the signatures he needs, despite stating earlier this month that he only had roughly 142,000 signatures.

(224,880 valid signatures are needed to qualify. Usually you need a cushion of about 30,000 to 40,000 more, because many signatures will be duplicates or otherwise invalid.)

So why would Tim lie about the number of signatures he has? If he has enough, why not triumphantly broadcast that to the media? There are several reasons. First, Eyman enjoys trying to keep the press and the state's political establishment in suspense for as long as he possibly can.

Second, Eyman might be planning to claim that the initiative was in trouble in early June, but in the last few days, his "junkyard dog supporters" pulled through in a huge surge of momentum and got enough signatures for qualification. (He wants to portray I-917 as a "son" of last year's failed I-912).

But third...Eyman might be lying for purely selfish reasons. David Goldstein and I have wondered if Eyman is hoping to deceive his wealthy backer, Michael Dunmire, by claiming he needs more money to finish the I-917 signature drive.

We already know that Eyman tends to keep his allies in the dark from the stories that have come out of the failed R-65 campaign. Could Eyman be trying to get an extra few hundred thousand dollars from Michael Dunmire to line his pockets with?

All Tim would have to do would be to report the money as an expense to Citizen Solutions - and his good buddy Roy Ruffino - for signature gathering. Then he and Roy could help themselves to Dunmire's money. I-917 would still make the ballot, since the signatures would have already been purchased. Dunmire would never know the difference.

For those of you who might dismiss this scenario as farfetched, it's worth remembering that Tim has ripped off his donors in the past, and been sued by the state of Washington for violating campaign finance laws (Eyman eventually settled with the state and agreed to never serve as treasurer for a campaign again). As they like to say, old habits die hard.

Fortunately, these initiatives are not being ignored. We've obviously spent a lot of time focusing on them, but the good news is that coalitions have been forming over the last few months to fight all three.

Should I-917 make the ballot (as expected) it will be fought and defeated by the same coalition that stopped I-912, including NPI's Permanent Defense and Keep Washington Rolling.

Should I-933 make the ballot (as expected) it will be fought and defeated by the Community Protection Coalition, a huge group of organizations that has been preparing for this fight for many months. NPI's Permanent Defense is a member.

And, should I-920 make the ballot (as we now expect it to) it will be fought and defeated by a group of progressive forces including SEIU and the WEA (Washington Education Association).

More surprisingly, the coalition also includes the world's richest man, Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft. (Gates donated $10,000 to the Committee to Protect Our Children's Legacy last March).

Of the three coalitions, the Community Protection group has been the most active, organizing kickoff parties to stop I-933 in nearly every county, running full-page advertisements in major newspapers, launching a new website, and staging protests in downtown Olympia, Vancouver and Spokane.

It's going to take a lot of resources to stop all three of these right wing initiatives from passing in November, assuming they qualify. But we must stop these assaults on our sustainable future. We managed to score some major victories last year - and now we need to do the same thing again.

While we're doing that, we also want to make sure we get a progressive initiative, I-937, qualified and passed. Follow the link to the Yes on I-937 campaign to learn how you can help.

Finally, please remember - if you see right wing signature gathering activity occurring, do not hesitate to report it.

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