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.

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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