In an editorial just published to the Web this evening, The Seattle Times’ editorial page — which we have not always been in agreement with — has wisely come out against Initiative 517, the latest scheme to roll out of Tim Eyman’s initiative factory.
I‑517, which NPI has been helping organize opposition to for almost a year, was written to make it easier and cheaper for Eyman to get signatures on the ballot. I‑517 would allow out of state paid signature gatherers to operate in Washington year round, criminalize decline to sign activity within twenty-five feet of a petitioner, and force municipalities to send local initiatives to the ballot even if they’re invalid or unconstitutional, needlessly wasting tax dollars.
Simply put, I‑517 infringes on Washingtonians’ free speech and property rights, which are guaranteed to us by the U.S. Constitution and the Washington State Constitution. The Times is spot-on in describing the initiative as a boon to Eyman:
On the November 4 ballot, it would grease the signature-gathering process. It reads as if Tim Eyman wrote it to expand his initiative-manufacturing industry.
We suspect Eyman’s buddy Eddie Agazarm, who is one half of the duo behind “Citizen Solutions”, had a big hand in writing I‑517… Eyman didn’t write it on his own. But Eyman is certainly the sponsor and the primary beneficiary.
Eyman has so far chosen not to actively campaign for I‑517’s passage, except within Republican circles, where he maintains some credibility.
However, many Republicans have come out against I‑517, including Rob McKenna, Sam Reed, Ralph Munro, and the Mainstream Republicans of Washington. The Republican-leaning Association of Washington Business, which fundraised for Eyman’s I‑1053 in 2010 and I‑1185 last year, is also opposed to I‑517.
The Times editorial opposing I‑517 calls it redundant and an overreach — not once, not twice, but three times. We agree: I‑517 is simply not needed. Harassment of anyone is already illegal, and the right to petition is in the Bill of Rights. Courts have upheld the people’s right to petition on many occasions.
I‑517 purports to be about expanding the freedom to petition. But it’s really about taking away the free speech rights, free assembly rights, and property rights of others so that people who already profit from the initiative process can make signature gathering an even more lucrative enterprise.
Of the approximately $1.3 million raised by the campaign to pass Initiative 1185 last year, $1.2 million went to Eddie Agazarm and Roy Ruffino’s Citizen Solutions. We know from talking to petitioners who worked on the I‑1185 signature drive that they were only paid a dollar for every signature they collected. The Secretary of State says 320,003 signatures were submitted for I‑1185.
Given that petitioners were only being paid a dollar a signature, we don’t see how the drive could have cost much more than $320,000. Even if there were, say, $80,000 in additional expenses associated with the drive (which is a lot!) that still leaves more than three quarters of a million dollars left over.
So where did that money go? We can only conclude it went into the pockets of Agazarm, Ruffino, and (possibly) Eyman. What a haul!
We also know that petitioners who were hired to work on I‑1185 (the last of Eyman’s I‑601 clones) were told to collect for I‑517 too, or they’d be fired.
This arrangement was documented in the complaint filed against the I‑517 campaign by Sherry Bockwinkel more than a year ago.
The slow-moving Public Disclosure Commission confirmed earlier this year it would open a formal inquiry into Sherry’s allegations. The investigation remains open with less than two weeks to go before voting begins.
In the meantime, the NO on I‑517 Coalition continues to grow stronger. The Tacoma News Tribune has also joined the no side, and more businesses, individuals, and organizations are signing on every week.
Without question, the NO on I‑517 Coalition is one of the most diverse and bipartisan campaigns we have ever been a part of. The Coalition’s diversity speaks to just how poorly conceived I‑517 is. The Yes on I‑517 has so few endorsements that it hasn’t even published a list of supporters on its website.
I don’t often agree with Rob McKenna and Brian Sonntag, but I’m glad to have them as part of the coalition opposed to this latest shortsighted Tim Eyman initiative. The team at NPI urges you to join us in protecting our speech and property rights this autumn. Vote NO on Tim Eyman’s Initiative 517.