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.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Who governs the the AWB? Early I-1053 endorsement demonstrates it isn't the board

This morning, the Washington State Labor Council disclosed that it has been researching the Association of Washington Business' unusual early endorsement of Tim Eyman's Initiative 1053, polling prominent AWB members to discern whether they had anything to do with the endorsement.

For those who don't know, the AWB is basically the state-level chamber of commerce, and, as such, it claims to represent a very diverse group of people. Naturally, just as there are progressive and conservative activists, there are progressive and conservative businesspeople, and their inability to agree has resulted in the AWB remaining neutral in many initiative battles.

Three years ago, I spoke against Initiative 960 (which Initiative 1053 is modeled upon) at an AWB retreat on Hood Canal. I explained that Initiative 1053 is unconstitutional, undemocratic, unsound, and unfair.

I pointed out that Tim Eyman and Michael Dunmire (who were also at the retreat speaking in favor of their scheme) want to change the rules because they're not in power. I thought my message got across.

Again, that was in 2007.

Fast forward to 2010. It's the middle of spring, Eyman's scheme isn't even on the ballot yet, and without even inviting opponents to make their case, the notoriously neutral AWB is suddenly fully behind Washington's Grover Norquist clone:
Employer representatives on the Association of Washington Business’ Board of Directors have voted unanimously to support Initiative 1053, a measure requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes. Board members approved the vote May 13 during the state chamber of commerce’s annual Spring Board Meeting in Spokane.

“Taxes and increased costs on business are the top issue of concern for our members right now,” said AWB President Don Brunell. “This fall’s elections will undoubtedly be about the impact of taxes on families and businesses. Our board felt strongly enough about this measure to provide an early endorsement, in the hopes of raising the visibility of the issue among voters.”
Curiously, the press release that paragraph is from was distributed on May 18th, several days after the "Spring Board Meeting". Why didn't AWB announce the news the next day (May 14th?) Maybe it has something to do with this:
Boeing and Microsoft say they weren't at the AWB board meeting and they have taken no position on I-1053. So which businesses exactly were at AWB's meeting last month feeling "strongly enough about this measure to provide an early endorsement"? We decided to contact a few dozen of board members representing many of the state's most recognizable companies and organizations. But to date, we have yet to find a single AWB board member who'll admit to being at the May 13 meeting and to voting to endorse I-1053.
And it's not like they didn't try to reach out to people:
"Don Brunell strongly suggested we not respond to you," said AWB board member Santana Gonzales of Chevron. Another board member from a large law firm, thinking he was replying to Brunell's email warning about the WSLC, accidentally responded to us instead, and asked Brunell, "How did they get the board email addresses?" Uh.... Google?

Brunell's Cone of Silence effectively muzzled most of the board (see the list of who we contacted below), but some board members responded anyway. Here are their answers, paraphrased:
  • "I wasn't there" -- The Daily Herald Co., Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center
  • "We have not taken a position on I-1053" -- Weyerhaeuser, Avista Corp.
  • "I wasn't there" and "we have no position on it" -- US Bank
  • "I wasn't there" and "I personally oppose it" -- Bastyr University
  • "We DON'T support I-1053" -- Ben Bridge Jewelers
There was one board member who did declare her support for I-1053 -- although she says she wasn't at the May 13 meeting either. The Courage of Her Convictions Prize™ goes to... (drumroll, please)... Cherie Myers, Director of Public Affairs for Safeway!

Myers responded, "I was not there to vote, but I would support this initiative."

We assume this means that Safeway supports I-1053 since the whole point of the AWB and its election endorsements is to represent the interests of employers, and not just the personal politics of individual business lobbyists, right?
Yeah, exactly.

The WSLC's research just goes to show how unrepresentative the Association of Washington Business really is. They're so unrepresentative that it appears that only AWB staff attend AWB board meetings.

When I heard the news about the AWB endorsing Initiative 1053, my immediate reaction was, I guess Don Brunell railroaded an endorsement through his board.

Since I am not an expert on AWB's rules and bylaws (in contrast to Brunell, who obviously is), I don't know precisely how he did it. But I'm confident he was responsible for ramrodding it through. He needed the authority to use AWB's resources to help out Washington's most famous snake oil salesman.

It appears that something similar may have happened over at the Association of Washington Bankers. U.S. Bank claims to have no position on Initiative 1053, and a U.S. Bank officer (Byron Richards) is board chairman, yet the Association for some reason wrote a nice big check to Eyman's campaign coffers.

How did that happen?

Business trade groups love to talk about accountability and transparency in government, but it turns out they don't practice what they preach.

Surprise, surprise.


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