A right wing effort to force a vote this November on the capital gains tax on the wealthy enacted by the Legislature in 2021 has failed and will not be moving forward, its communications consultant acknowledged today.
The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield made contact with Mark Funk, one of the operatives who has been trying to get Initiative 1929 airborne over the last few months, and Funk went on the record to confirm that the group headed by former Dino Rossi adviser J. Vander Stoep has thrown in the towel and won’t be trying to put together an eleventh hour signature drive this month.
“Our coalition has confidence in the strength of the court case and we believe that the lower court decision will be upheld on appeal,” Funk told Cornfield.
What was the point of Initiative 1929, then?
Seriously. Funk and Vander Stoep spent a small fortune on legal fees, polling, web development, and consulting for an initiative that didn’t go anywhere.
Now Funk is claiming that I‑1929 isn’t needed right now because the group are confident in the strength of the legal challenge that Rob McKenna’s group of plaintiffs previously filed. Yeah, that’s a totally believable statement.
Clearly, they aren’t confident in the strength of the court case, or they wouldn’t have sunk so much time and money into an effort to ask voters to nix ESSB 5096, the law that created Washington’s new capital gains tax on the wealthy.
Funk insists that the campaign’s internal polling shows that voters “overwhelmingly” favor repeal. But our own research and polling done for other progressive organizations shows exactly the opposite.
The I‑1929 ballot title is one of the worst performing ballot titles that our team has ever seen, and voters simply don’t find the arguments that the right wing has been making against ESSB 5096 persuasive. (We tested those right wing arguments again just last week and found they’re still not resonating.)
Funk has not produced any of the campaign’s internal polling, so we don’t know what questions they asked or how those questions were answered, but nonetheless, his claims that Washingtonians are eager to vote for repeal are completely contradicted by the polling that has been publicly released.
Funk and Vander Stoep had been seeking millions to launch a signature drive, qualify I‑1929 to the ballot, and then wage a well-funded autumn campaign to get it past voters. However, from what we’ve heard, they simply could not find enough takers to underwrite their massively bloated, operative-enriching budget, and their fundraising sputtered to a complete halt a few weeks ago.
In a C4 report filed today with the Public Disclosure Commission, Vander Stoep’s operation reported having raised zero dollars in the month of May, while having spent an eye-popping $171,482.06 during that same period.
More than half of that amount went to Davis Wright Tremaine for legal fees.
Tens of thousands more went to Funk and several others for campaign consulting.
Funk was paid $3,000, Peri Hall & Associates was paid $15,000, Sound Counsel Crisis Communications was paid $7,500, R.L. Steinman was paid $6,000.00, Jocelyn McCabe Public Relations was paid $4,000, Dena Derr was paid $3,000, and Brecourt Strategies was paid $2,500. And, of course, Heather Clarke earned $7,500 for keeping the books. And, no I’m not joking: all of those entities were paid those amounts during a month when Vander Stoep’s campaign committee was inactive and taking in no receipts. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
The only thing that the I‑1929 effort will go into the history books as having accomplished is serving up a metaphorical feast for right wing political consultants. A total of $702,750 was raised and $545,000 was pledged before the plug was pulled, and not a single signature was gathered.
Wow. Just… wow.
The excess was so incredible that even Tim Eyman felt safe weighing in and comparing his now moribund initiative factory to Vander Stoep’s operation.
“Their high-priced campaign consultants gobbled up all the money they raised leaving nothing for the signature drive. They told their donors they needed $19 million. Pa-leeze,” Eyman wrote in a May 14th email missive, in which he characterized Vander Stoep’s Initiative 1929 as “doomed.”
Eyman also opined that I‑1929’s progressive opponents (like NPI) were correct about the I‑1929 ballot title being a complete disaster, declaring: “Their ballot title was so bad that it made the initiative un-winnable at the ballot box.”
Shopping for duplicitous ballot titles with drafts chock full of unconstitutional provisions is definitely something that Tim Eyman knows an awful lot about. Unfortunately for Eyman, the I‑1929 alternative that he’s peddling right now as an initiative to the Legislature also has a ballot title that doesn’t poll well, despite the involvement of attorney Joel Ard, who Eyman says is a legal genius.
Eyman has not been able to run a signature drive in four years due to having failed to find new wealthy benefactors to underwrite his schemes. The last drive he did was in 2018, for I‑976, which appeared on the ballot in 2019.
I‑1929’s demise is a welcome victory for the progressive movement, which formed a coalition called No Tax Cut for the Super Rich to prepare a campaign to defeat I‑1929 in the event Vander Stoep secured the money needed to move ahead. (NPI belongs to the coalition; our board took a position last month formally opposing I‑1929.) The coalition has relied extensively on donated staff time to support its operations, rather than burning through huge amounts of cash.
The right wing legal challenge against ESSB 5096 still must be overcome to keep the cause of tax fairness on track in Washington State, but it’s delightful to be free of the threat of I‑1929 in the coming autumn election season.