This morning, at the Secretary of State’s Elections Annex in Olympia, Tim Eyman and his pals Eddie Agazarm and Paul Jacob showed up to deliver what they said were 345,000 signatures for Initiative 517, Eyman’s latest scheme, which is intended to make it easier and cheaper for Tim Eyman to qualify initiatives for the ballot every year, so he can eke even more profits out of his initiative factory.
I attended Eyman’s press conference and responded afterwards on behalf of all of the good people in Washington State who are sick and tired of destructive, self-serving Tim Eyman initiatives that drain our common wealth, undermine our plan of government, and weaken the vital public services we all rely on.
Following Eyman’s remarks, I announced that NPI is spearheading the formation of a new political action committee to oppose I-517: Stop Tim Eyman’s Profit Machine. Our goal is to build a strong and diverse statewide coalition to defeat this measure and protect the initiative process – which Eyman already exploits on an annual basis – from further abuse and manipulation. The initiative and referendum were created to allow the people to
Stop Tim Eyman’s Profit Machine is not an NPI project. It is a coalition open to all who are tired of destructive Tim Eyman initiatives and want to help organize opposition to Eyman’s most self-serving scheme yet. Twice during the past few years, Washington’s progressive movement has come up short against Tim Eyman because no one stepped up to jumpstart the opposition. We cannot afford such a leadership vacuum now… or ever again. There is too much at stake.
I have been working against Tim Eyman’s initiatives for nearly eleven years now, as longtime NPI readers and supporters know.
I’m committed to opposing Eyman and his profit machine because I care about Washington. I was born here, raised here, and have no intention of ever living anyplace else. I love to travel, but I also love to come home to Washington.
I want to live in a state that invests in its schools and universities, that keeps its parks and public lands open and accessible, that makes mental health treatment and restorative justice a priority, and that pays its teachers and first responders a living wage. I want to live in a state where it is easy to start a business or a nonprofit, where government is open and responsive to the needs of the people, and where the most vulnerable get the help they need instead of being ignored.
Tim Eyman’s initiatives represent a threat to that vision.
For more than a decade, Eyman has sought to turn Washingtonians against their own government. He is relentless; failure doesn’t faze him (and why should it, for he makes money whether he wins or loses). His initiative factory has churned out one destructive measure after another with each passing year, backed by wealthy benefactors such as investment banker Michael Dunmire of Woodinville, Bellevue developer (and light rail opponent) Kemper Freeman, Jr., and big oil companies like BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips, and Tesoro.
Tim Eyman likes to portray himself as a virtuous champion of the people. But that’s a fiction. Eyman does not represent the people of Washington State. He has never had the courage to run for elected office himself. Instead, he belittles and insults people who do, while peddling schemes that make their jobs harder.
Nor is his initiative factory a grassroots operation. Money from powerful interests lubricates its gears, and Eyman serves as the pitchman for his schemes. Rarely does he take a backseat. In 2002, after he admitted having taken more than $150,000 from his own supporters for his personal use, he went into self-imposed exile, and turned over the I-776 campaign checkbook to his associates – but not before he said this to Associated Press’ David Ammons:
Eyman said he intends to continue pushing initiatives, but he intends to be paid, and to be up front about it.
“I want to continue to advocate issues and I want to make a lot of money doing it,” he said.
That is one of my favorite Eyman quotes. It’s worth nothing that Eyman didn’t tell Ammons, “I’d like reasonable compensation for the work I’m doing” or “I’ve spearheaded initiatves in the past as a volunteer, but I realize now I need to find a way to pay the bills… I’m going to ask my supporters if they mind if I take a salary.” No, what he Eyman said was, “I want to continue to advocate issues and I want to make a lot of money doing it.”
And he has. Last year, it appears he made out like a bandit.
We can see from looking at PDC records that more than $1.2 million was spent by the Initiative 1185 campaign committee.
Of that $1.2 million, $1,173,324.99 went to “Citizen Solutions”, a shell business run by Eyman’s associates Roy Ruffino and Eddie Agazarm.
I use the words shell business because “Citizen Solutions” is not run like a legitimate firm by honest entrepreneurs. Roy and Eddie were actually fined more than $8,000 in 2011 by the Department of Labor & Industries for violating Washington’s worker protection laws. Since being audited and fined, Roy and Eddie have dissolved and reformed “Citizen Solutions” as a limited liability company, or LLC.
They now require petitioners to self-register with the Department of Revenue and the Department of Labor & Industries as a condition of being offered a contract. That way, Roy and Eddie don’t have to worry about taking care of the people who work for them. (So much for compassionate conservatism, right?)
Over the course of the past year, we have learned a lot about how Roy and Eddie operate. People they have mistreated have bravely stepped forward to tell their stories, including Rick Walther, Steve Burdick, and Miles Stanley.
Thanks to their testimony, we know that back in April, Roy and Eddie attempted to force all of their petition crews to gather equal numbers of signatures for I-1185 and I-517, while only receiving payment for the I-1185 signatures. Petitioners who didn’t like this arrangement were told they would be fired. Ultimately, Roy and Eddie came up with a new arrangement: Instead of paying around $1.00 for every I-1185 signature, petitioners would receive seventy-five cents for each I-1185 signature and twenty-five cents for each I-517 signature.
Tim Eyman has claimed that no money for I-1185 was used to pay for I-517 signatures. But he could be lying, as he often has in the past. We’d like to see a forensic accounting done of his and Citizen Solution’s finances to see whether public disclosure laws were followed or not.
This much we do know: Most of the money that went to Citizen Solutions to pay for I-1185 signatures did not go to the petition crews. It was pocked by Ruffino and Agazarm (and possibly Eyman as well) as profit. Miles and Steve have testified in sworn affadivits that they were being paid a dollar per signature, and we know that other petitioners were collecting for the same level of compensation. The Secretary of State’s office reported last July that 320,003 signatures were submitted for I-1185. If each signature cost Ruffino and Agazarm a dollar, that would mean the cost of the signature drive was around $320,000.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume the total costs of the signature drive actually came to $1.25 a signature. That’s more than what the petitioners were being paid, but it allows us to suppose there may have been other costs associated with the signature drive. If we multiply $1.25 by 320,003, we get $400,003.75. That still leaves more than $700,000 unaccounted for.
What happened to all of that money? Where did it go? We know it didn’t go to the workers who gathered signatures outside of shopping malls, stadiums, and ferry terminals. We can only conclude it was pocketed as profit.
Ruffino, Agazarm, and Eyman have the means to take good care of the people who collect signatures for them. But they don’t. They are interested in making money on their terms, and they have no compulsion about exploiting other people to do that.
If I-517 passes, Ruffino, Agazarm, and Eyman will be able to turn petitioning into a year-round business. State law currently provides for a six-month window for gathering signatures on initiatives to the people (January to July). Eyman wants to lengthen that period by six months, so that each July, right after submitting signatures for one initiative, he could immediately begin working on a scheme for the ensuing year. Eyman doesn’t care that initiatives to the Legislature already have a longer-window of about nine months – a window he just took advantage of to get the signatures he needed for I-517. He wants his schemes to go directly on the ballot without having to wait for potential legislative action.
Eyman does a good job of making himself sound like an all-around good guy… a guy with good and noble intentions. He knows how to put people at ease… he can be disarming, even charming, when talking to reporters. And he excels at orchestrating media coverage for his schemes. The most dangerous place in Washington is between Tim Eyman and a television camera, as the Post-Intelligencer’s Joel Connelly likes to say.
But there is nothing noble about Tim Eyman’s initiative factory. It is fueled by greed and exploitation. Eyman has said that he’s in this to make money for himself, as I showed earlier. And coincidentally, his pal Eddie Agazarm has been even more explicit. Last year, only hours after Agazarm concluded a meeting about I-517 with petition crew chiefs, he sent out an email trying to assuage concerns that asking people to collect I-517 signatures for no compensation was unfair:
Somebody said that they’d have to be asking their people to work I-517 for free.
That is definitely not the case as ALL petitioners and ALL managers will get paid very handsomely once I-517 passes. Think of the extra money we ALL make when we can work big turf ALL the time. Think of the money we can ALL make when we have petitioning year round. Think of all the extra petitions we can carry. Oh… we are gonna get paid for sure.
That second paragraph there pretty much says it all. Money is what this is really all about. Profiting from promoting an endless series of destructive, cynical initiatives that harm Washington’s quality of life. That is the last thing our state needs.
We sometimes get asked, by the way, if we are automatically opposed to everything Tim Eyman sponsors. We are not, but as I said this morning, we have never seen a Tim Eyman initiative to end homelessness. Or an Eyman plan for cleaning up Puget Sound. Or a proposal to repair the damage caused by his own initiatives from the early 2000s. All we have ever seen from Tim Eyman are initiatives that cause harm and inflict pain, often in unseen ways (think death by a thousand cuts).
Eyman avoids talking about the costs and consequences of his schemes, preferring to stick to his talking points even when challenged.
That is why I went down to Olympia this morning.
When Tim Eyman goes unresponded to, we don’t have an opportunity to talk about those costs and consequences, because the conversation becomes one-sided and dominated by Eyman.
Reporters from the Associated Press, The News Tribune, The Herald of Everett, KING5, and KCPQ (Q13 Fox) attended Eyman’s press conference. Most of them later reported on the signature turn-in for their respective publications. What follows are some excerpts from the stories they wrote, or segments they filed.
Eyman’s critics were quick to pounce on his new effort.
“This is a made up problem, a manufactured, pretend problem, and it’s not a crisis,” said State Rep. Reuven Carlyle. “No one else is complaining about this issue. The time under state law is absolutely sufficient.”
A new group formed to fight back at Eyman’s latest effort Thursday.
“This is not about grassroots democracy,” said Andrew Villeneuve, Co-Chair of No on I-517. “This initiative is really about making it easier for Eyman to do petitioning year round, for his associates to do petitioning year round, because that is their business. That is how they make their money.”
A committee called Stop Tim Eyman’s Profit Machine: No on 517 announced its formation in Olympia moments after Eyman filed his measure. It is the brainchild of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a hand-to-mouth group of young “netroots” activists that has opposed past Eyman initiatives.
The committee charges that I-517 is designed for the primary purpose of enriching Eyman. The initiative would, it charges, make it “easier and cheaper for Eyman to operate his initiative factory, in part by making petitioning a year-round business for Eyman and his associates.
Andrew Villeneuve of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a longtime Eyman nemesis, watched the trio speak to reporters then announced formation of a committee to fight the measure. Its name, he said, will be “Stop Tim Eyman’s Profit Machine.”
Villeneuve said if the initiative became law sponsors of initiatives would gain six additional months to gather signatures. That means petitioners could be out and about year-round which would make the business of initiatives and signature gathering more lucrative, he said.
“This initiative is just intended to make it easier and cheaper for people like Tim Eyman to do initiatives,” he said.
Andrew Villeneuve of the Northwest Progressive Institute, who has long opposed Eyman’s initiatives, issued a statement Thursday criticizing the measure, saying that the aim of I-517 “is to make it easier and cheaper for Tim Eyman to run initiatives.”
If you want to help get involved in the coalition to defeat Initiative 517 and stop Tim Eyman’s profit machine, please sign up to help today over at Permanent Defense. This isn’t going to be easy. We would appreciate having you on board.