Sev­er­al months ago, around the time Tim Eyman and his pals Roy Ruffi­no and Eddie Agazarm began accept­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars from big cor­po­ra­tions for I‑1185 (Eyman’s mea­sure to reim­pose the uncon­sti­tu­tion­al two-thirds vot­ing require­ment for rais­ing rev­enue), they qui­et­ly began schem­ing to have I‑1185 peti­tion­ers col­lect sig­na­tures for a sec­ond ini­tia­tive that they delib­er­ate­ly chose not to tell the pub­lic or their own sup­port­ers about: I‑517.

I’ve writ­ten about this secret cam­paign for I‑517 before, as has David Gold­stein (for The Stranger), and NPI has been track­ing it for months through our cit­i­zen activist net­work. But now, thanks to a Pub­lic Dis­clo­sure Com­mis­sion com­plaint filed by activist Sher­ry Bock­winkel, the state is final­ly look­ing into the mat­ter, as Jor­dan Schrad­er reports in tomor­row’s News Tri­bune.

If you’re not famil­iar with I‑517, here’s a brief out­line of what it is and what it does:

I‑517 is an ini­tia­tive to the Leg­is­la­ture, filed April 5th, 2012 by Tim Eyman and his Spokane asso­ciates Mike and Jack Fagan.

  • Ini­tia­tives to the Leg­is­la­ture work dif­fer­ent­ly than ini­tia­tives to the peo­ple. Instead of being put on the bal­lot after cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for a pub­lic vote, ini­tia­tives to the peo­ple go before the state House or Senate.
  • The dead­line for sub­mit­ting an ini­tia­tive to the Leg­is­la­ture is ten days pri­or to the sched­uled start of the reg­u­lar ses­sion (which usu­al­ly gets under­way the sec­ond week of January).
  • Such ini­tia­tives may be approved by the Leg­is­la­ture (in which case there is no pub­lic vote), put on the bal­lot with an alter­na­tive, or rejected/ignored and allowed to go to the bal­lot the fol­low­ing November.

I‑517 would give Tim Eyman an extra six months to gath­er sig­na­tures on ini­tia­tives he files to go before the people.

  • The point of the longer sig­na­ture gath­er­ing win­dow is osten­si­bly to low­er Eyman’s costs. With more time avail­able to col­lect sig­na­tures, he would­n’t have to pay mer­ce­nary peti­tion­ers as much as he does today.
  • The state Con­sti­tu­tion spec­i­fies the date when sig­na­ture gath­er­ing for an ini­tia­tive to the peo­ple must end, but it does­n’t spec­i­fy when it can begin.
  • State law cur­rent­ly says that ini­tia­tives to the peo­ple must be filed with­in ten months of the date of that year’s gen­er­al elec­tion (which means that fil­ing peri­od always begins on a day in ear­ly Jan­u­ary). Eyman’s I‑517 would make the fil­ing peri­od begin six months earlier.

I‑517 attempts to cre­ate an extreme­ly broad, prob­lem­at­ic def­i­n­i­tion of harass­ment in addi­tion to crim­i­nal­iz­ing con­duct that is already illegal.

  • I‑517 declares that “inter­fer­ing with sig­na­ture gath­er­ing shall be illegal”.
  • “Inter­fer­ing” is broad­ly defined to mean “push­ing, shov­ing, touch­ing, spit­ting, throw­ing objects, yelling, scream­ing, or being ver­bal­ly abu­sive, or oth­er tumul­tuous con­duct, block­ing or intim­i­dat­ing, or main­tain­ing an intim­i­dat­ing pres­ence with­in twen­ty-five feet of any per­son gath­er­ing sig­na­tures and any per­son try­ing to sign a petition.”
  • The ini­tia­tive does not define what the words “intim­i­dat­ing pres­ence” mean. Of course, the adjec­tive intim­i­dat­ing is there to make the pro­vi­sion not seem bla­tant­ly uncon­sti­tu­tion­al. But it’s still uncon­sti­tu­tion­al. The First Amend­ment guar­an­tees all Amer­i­cans the right to freely assem­ble. Courts have ruled that peo­ple can’t be barred or removed from pub­lic areas just because their pres­ence makes oth­er peo­ple uncomfortable.
  • Sim­i­lar­ly, ver­bal abuse — which con­ser­v­a­tives heap on pro­gres­sives every day — has his­tor­i­cal­ly been tol­er­at­ed, to an extent, because most speech… even hate­ful, offen­sive, or unsa­vory speech… is pro­tect­ed by the First Amendment.
  • We do not con­done harass­ment by any per­son, group, or coali­tion attempt­ing to mount a decline to sign cam­paign. But we see this ini­tia­tive as an attempt to crim­i­nal­ize free speech.
  • The whole point of a decline to sign cam­paign is to con­vince peo­ple not to put their names on a peti­tion being hawked by a sig­na­ture gath­er­er. From the point of view of a sig­na­ture gath­er­er, that’s inter­fer­ence. A cor­po­rate exec­u­tive sim­i­lar­ly might view a boy­cott as inter­fer­ence, and a lob­by­ist might find a peace­ful protest out­side his invi­ta­tion-only cock­tail par­ty for high-rollers and elect­ed lead­ers to be inter­fer­ence. But all of those activ­i­ties are pro­tect­ed under the First Amendment.

I‑517 is not a new idea. Eyman has pro­posed it many times before; I‑517 is just the lat­est incar­na­tion. But unlike pre­vi­ous mea­sures, Eyman is actu­al­ly try­ing to gath­er sig­na­tures this time around.

See, Eyman has long been inter­est­ed in try­ing to fig­ure out how to run cheap­er cam­paigns. His ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry’s biggest expense has always been the cost of sig­na­tures — he buys them rather than rely­ing on vol­un­teers to col­lect them. As men­tioned, he fig­ures if he had more time to run sig­na­ture dri­ves, he’d be able to get away with pay­ing mer­ce­nary peti­tion­ers less than he does now.

To date, the cam­paign for I‑517 has been run out of the pub­lic eye. Eyman did not announce in April that he would seek to qual­i­fy I‑517 as an ini­tia­tive to the Leg­is­la­ture. He did­n’t tell his sup­port­ers, he did­n’t tell the press, and he cer­tain­ly did­n’t tell his oppo­si­tion (though we quick­ly found out what he was up to anyway).

Nor­mal­ly, Eyman spends a great deal of time pro­mot­ing his ini­tia­tives to reporters and to friend­ly audi­ences. He cir­cu­lates talk­ing points week­ly, shows up at Repub­li­can Par­ty gath­er­ings to pitch his lat­est schemes, and sends out fundrais­ing appeals via snail mail. But he has­n’t done any of that for I‑517.

Most impor­tant­ly, until just recent­ly, Eyman failed to report that he was rais­ing and spend­ing mon­ey for I‑517 as required by law.

Why is Eyman run­ning such a secre­tive cam­paign? Why is he hid­ing what he’s doing? It’s nor­mal for Eyman to be up to no good. But it’s unusu­al for Eyman not to be upfront. He gen­er­al­ly likes to brag about what he’s doing. He is a pub­lic­i­ty hound. But he has­n’t sought any pub­lic­i­ty for I‑517 — per­haps because he knows that if he shame­less­ly tried to sell it, peo­ple would see I‑517 for what it is: a self-cen­tered pow­er grab designed to prop up his ini­tia­tive factory.

In attempt­ing to keep I‑517 a secret, and in attempt­ing to find the mon­ey need­ed to pay peti­tion­ers to col­lect sig­na­tures for it, Eyman and his pals may have well bro­ken the law. We know from tes­ti­mo­ny pro­vid­ed by peo­ple like Rick Walther that Eyman’s pals gave their peti­tion­ers an ulti­ma­tum: Col­lect for I‑517 (for noth­ing) as well as for I‑1185 (for com­pen­sa­tion) — or you’re fired.

We even have an email writ­ten by Agazarm in which he flat­ly says as much. (Agazarm has claimed to the Pub­lic Dis­clo­sure Com­mis­sion that he was speak­ing fig­u­ra­tive­ly, not lit­er­al­ly, but we think he’s lying).

Walther, by the way, has filed his own com­plaint regard­ing reg­u­la­to­ry cor­ner-cut­ting com­mit­ted by Agazarm and Ruffi­no’s “Cit­i­zen Solu­tions” busi­ness with the state Depart­ment of Labor and Indus­tries. They’ve been in trou­ble before: L&I audit­ed Cit­i­zen Solu­tions last year for non­com­pli­ance and fined Ruffi­no and Agrazarm $43,000, lat­er reduced to $1,000… though L&I ulti­mate­ly col­lect­ed more than $8,000 because Ruffi­no and Agazarm were late in pay­ing and let inter­est accrue.

We also know — again thanks to Rick Walther and oth­ers — that after peti­tion­ers balked at being asked to col­lect sig­na­tures for I‑517 for noth­ing, Eyman’s pals began reluc­tant­ly pay­ing them… though not as much as they were pay­ing for I‑1185 sig­na­tures. What we’re not sure of is where the mon­ey came from to pay for those I‑517 sig­na­tures.

Have Eyman and his pals been using some of the $1 mil­lion plus they received for I‑1185 to pay peti­tion­ers for I‑517 sig­na­tures? It seems plau­si­ble. The Pub­lic Dis­clo­sure Com­mis­sion has been asked by Bock­winkel to deter­mine whether this hap­pened. The Asso­ci­a­tion of Wash­ing­ton Busi­ness (AWB), which mar­shaled lob­by­ists to write checks to Eyman and his pals for I‑1185, wants to know, too:

The cam­paign denies using any mon­ey from I‑1185 – instead lean­ing on peti­tion­ers’ inter­est in the top­ic to dri­ve a vol­un­teer effort.

If any­one hopes that is true, it’s Washington’s busi­ness lobby.

“It’s hard for us to fig­ure out who’s paid for what,” said Don Brunell, pres­i­dent of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Wash­ing­ton Business.

The group wants to make sure its near­ly $500,000 in con­tri­bu­tions were spent on I‑1185 as intend­ed – espe­cial­ly because some retail busi­ness­es wor­ry about I‑517. The mea­sure might lim­it their abil­i­ty to con­trol where peti­tions are pushed on cus­tomers, Brunell said.

I‑1185’s sig­na­ture dri­ve has now end­ed, but the sig­na­ture dri­ve for I‑517 is con­tin­u­ing, because Eyman does­n’t have all of the John Han­cocks from unsus­pect­ing vot­ers he needs yet. So it is of para­mount impor­tance that the PDC makes its inves­ti­ga­tion of this mat­ter a top priority.

We need to know what’s real­ly going on here. If Tim Eyman and his pals have bro­ken the law, there ought to be harsh reper­cus­sions, espe­cial­ly because Eyman has been down this road before, and escaped with very light punishment.

Ten and a half years ago, he tear­ful­ly admit­ted to hav­ing tak­en tens of thou­sands of dol­lars of his own sup­port­ers’ mon­ey for his per­son­al use. Though he told the press he’d real­ized that what he had done was wrong, he assert­ed it was legal.

The PDC inves­ti­gat­ed and found oth­er­wise. In April of 2012, it referred the mat­ter to then Attor­ney Gen­er­al Chris Gre­goire. Gre­goire prompt­ly filed suit against Eyman. In July of 2002, Eyman set­tled the law­suit, pay­ing $50,000 to the state and agree­ing nev­er to serve again as a cam­paign treasurer.

But the agree­ment did­n’t stop him from being a cam­paign man­ag­er or cam­paign chair, and the gears of his ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry have been kept turn­ing by the likes of the AWB and its mem­bers, Wood­inville invest­ment banker Michael Dun­mire, and Belle­vue devel­op­er Kem­per Free­man, Jr.

As we have repeat­ed­ly remind­ed the press over the years, Eyman’s ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry is not a char­i­ta­ble effort. It is a lucra­tive for-prof­it enterprise.

I use the word lucra­tive because it’s a can’t-lose busi­ness. Eyman com­pen­sates him­self hand­some­ly with his rich back­ers’ mon­ey whether his ini­tia­tives pass or fail. He long ago ceased sell­ing fra­ter­ni­ty wrist­watch­es because his ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry pro­vides him with plen­ty of income. He’s become the thing he so often rails against: a career politi­cian, bet­ter com­pen­sat­ed than any elect­ed leader in the state.

Eyman has nev­er been con­cerned with dot­ting his i’s and cross­ing his t’s as required by law. Again and again, he and his asso­ciates have been rebuked by the PDC for not fil­ing reports on time, or fill­ing out paper­work incor­rect­ly. Eyman & Co. were even fined a few hun­dred dol­lars in ear­ly 2006 after the PDC com­plet­ed an inves­ti­ga­tion into Eyman’s activ­i­ties prompt­ed by a com­plaint that NPI had joint­ly filed with David Gold­stein and Tax­pay­ers for Wash­ing­ton’s Future six months prior.

But that slap on the wrist did­n’t induce them to change their ways. Nor have any of the polite reminders the PDC has sent to Eyman over the years.

The arro­gance of Eyman and his cohorts is per­haps matched only by the arro­gance of Wall Street and wealthy Repub­li­cans like Mitt Rom­ney, the Koch broth­ers, and Shel­don Adel­son. How fit­ting, then, that Eyman, the Fagans, Ruffi­no, and Agazarm are being paid to do the bid­ding of lob­by­ists rep­re­sent­ing the wealth­i­est com­pa­nies in the state, who want to pre­vent leg­is­la­tors from requir­ing cor­po­ra­tions to pay their fair share in tax­es to sup­port vital pub­lic services.

If you see a peti­tion­er hawk­ing Ini­tia­tive 517, we would like to hear from you. Please tell us about your expe­ri­ence by using Per­ma­nent Defense’s report­ing tool. And rest assured, we will be keep­ing a close watch on the state’s inves­ti­ga­tion into poten­tial wrong­do­ing by Eyman and his pals at Cit­i­zen Solutions.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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