Tim Eyman files an initiative
Former initiative promoter Tim Eyman files an initiative to sabotage Washington's common wealth at the Secretary of State's office on January 11th, 2010 (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

A few days ago, Wash­ing­ton Sec­re­tary of State Steve Hobbs imple­ment­ed new rules for fil­ing ini­tia­tives and ref­er­en­da in the Ever­green State which raised the cost of fil­ing ini­tia­tives from five dol­lars to $156, in a long over­due move that I tes­ti­fied in sup­port of back in Feb­ru­ary at an admin­is­tra­tive rule­mak­ing hearing.

Right wing activist Tim Eyman, who used to be in the busi­ness of qual­i­fy­ing ini­tia­tives to the bal­lot every year, quick­ly took notice… and as our team antic­i­pat­ed, he isn’t hap­py about the increase.

Eyman fired off a let­ter to Sec­re­tary Hobbs telling him that he would be show­ing up in Olympia to file ini­tia­tives to the 2025 Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture and that he expect­ed to pay just five dol­lars. He sub­se­quent­ly cir­cu­lat­ed a copy of his “demand let­ter” to his list of fol­low­ers and the press. Here it is:

Dear Sec­re­tary Hobbs:

Tomor­row (Wed, March 13) is the first day for cit­i­zens to file an ini­tia­tive to the legislature.

I will be fil­ing sev­er­al ini­tia­tives on var­i­ous top­ics tomor­row. How­ev­er, this morn­ing a friend for­ward­ed me a news sto­ry report­ing that your office uni­lat­er­al­ly raised the ini­tia­tive fil­ing fee from $5 to $156 start­ing tomorrow.

You have no author­i­ty to uni­lat­er­al­ly increase ini­tia­tive fil­ing fees.

The chap­ter gov­ern­ing state ini­tia­tive and ref­er­en­dum is chap­ter 29A.72 RCW.

The leg­is­la­ture del­e­gat­ed to your office the author­i­ty to adopt rules estab­lish­ing rea­son­able fees for specif­i­cal­ly iden­ti­fied chap­ters and Titles, but chap­ter 29A.72 RCW gov­ern­ing ini­tia­tives is not list­ed.

If the leg­is­la­ture had intend­ed to grant your office uni­lat­er­al author­i­ty to raise fil­ing fees for ini­tia­tives, it could have done so but did not.

This state­ment of fact is bol­stered by instances where the leg­is­la­ture con­sid­ered increas­ing those fees and decid­ed to keep them the same.

Dur­ing the 2007 leg­isla­tive ses­sion, Sen­ate Bill 5392 was intro­duced. A pub­lic hear­ing was con­duct­ed on Jan­u­ary 30 and I tes­ti­fied on it. The bill was not passed into law – the leg­is­la­ture decid­ed not to increase the fee.

Dur­ing the 2010 leg­isla­tive ses­sion, Sen­ate Bill 6665 was intro­duced. A pub­lic hear­ing was con­duct­ed on Jan­u­ary 21. I tes­ti­fied on that one too. The bill was not passed into law – the leg­is­la­ture decid­ed not to increase the fee.

The Leg­is­la­ture has specif­i­cal­ly retained author­i­ty regard­ing the fil­ing fee amount and has repeat­ed­ly decid­ed the amount should remain the same.

You have no author­i­ty to uni­lat­er­al­ly increase fil­ing fees for initiatives.

There­fore, for my ini­tia­tives that’ll be filed tomor­row morn­ing, your office must accept them with the leg­is­la­ture-defined amount of $5.00 per initiative.

If that does not hap­pen, you will force me to file a law­suit against you and your office.

Please respond by 5:00 pm today because time is of the essence.

Tim Eyman

Empha­sis is Eyman’s.

Hobbs’ office sen­si­bly did not both­er respond­ing to the above. When Eyman showed up, he was required to pay the $156 fee for the two ini­tia­tives that he wished to file, and did so, as con­firmed by The Wash­ing­ton State Stan­dard­’s Jer­ry Corn­field in an arti­cle pub­lished today about the fil­ing fee increase.

Eyman’s insis­tence that Hobbs has “no author­i­ty” to increase fil­ing fees for ini­tia­tives when state law clear­ly states that he does is amus­ing — and telling.

You might think that some­one who has been try­ing to change state law for decades and has spon­sored dozens of ini­tia­tives seek­ing to do so would have acquired a basic under­stand­ing of it. But you would be mistaken.

Not only is Tim Eyman bad at writ­ing law, he’s bad at read­ing it, too.

Here are the rel­e­vant statutes. First, RCW 29A.72.010:

Filing proposed measures with secretary of state.

If any legal vot­er of the state, either indi­vid­u­al­ly or on behalf of an orga­ni­za­tion, desires to peti­tion the leg­is­la­ture to enact a pro­posed mea­sure, or sub­mit a pro­posed ini­tia­tive mea­sure to the peo­ple, or order that a ref­er­en­dum of all or part of any act, bill, or law, passed by the leg­is­la­ture be sub­mit­ted to the peo­ple, he or she shall file with the sec­re­tary of state:

(1) A leg­i­ble copy of the mea­sure pro­posed, or the act or part of such act on which a ref­er­en­dum is desired;
(2) A signed affi­davit, or elec­tron­ic sub­mis­sion, that the spon­sor is a reg­is­tered vot­er; and
(3) A fil­ing fee pre­scribed under RCW 43.07.120.

In that last sub­sec­tion, you can see the Sec­re­tary of State is autho­rized to charge a fil­ing fee, pre­scribed under a dif­fer­ent RCW. Let’s look at that one:

Fees — Rules.

(1) The sec­re­tary of state must estab­lish by rule and col­lect the fees in this subsection:
(a) For a copy of any law, res­o­lu­tion, record, or oth­er doc­u­ment or paper on file in the sec­re­tary’s office;
(b) For any cer­tifi­cate under seal;
(c) For fil­ing and record­ing trademark;
(d) For each deed or patent of land issued by the governor;
(e) For record­ing mis­cel­la­neous records, papers, or oth­er documents.
(2) The sec­re­tary of state may adopt rules under chap­ter 34.05 RCW estab­lish­ing rea­son­able fees for the fol­low­ing ser­vices ren­dered under chap­ter 23.95 RCW, Title 23B RCW, chap­ter 18.100, 19.09, 19.77, 23.86, 23.90, 24.03A, 24.06, 24.12, 24.20, 24.24, 24.28, 24.36, *25.04, 25.15, 25.10, 25.05, or 26.60 RCW:
(a) Any ser­vice ren­dered in-per­son at the sec­re­tary of state’s office;
(b) Any expe­dit­ed service;
(c) The elec­tron­ic or fac­sim­i­le trans­mit­tal of infor­ma­tion from cor­po­ra­tion records or copies of documents;
(d) The pro­vid­ing of infor­ma­tion by micro­graph­ic or oth­er reduced-for­mat compilation;
(e) The han­dling of checks, drafts, or cred­it or deb­it cards upon adop­tion of rules autho­riz­ing their use for which suf­fi­cient funds are not on deposit; and
(f) Spe­cial search charges.
(3) To facil­i­tate the col­lec­tion of fees, the sec­re­tary of state may estab­lish accounts for deposits by per­sons who may fre­quent­ly be assessed such fees to pay the fees as they are assessed. The sec­re­tary of state may make what­ev­er arrange­ments with those per­sons as may be nec­es­sary to car­ry out this section.
(4) The sec­re­tary of state may adopt rules for the use of cred­it or deb­it cards for pay­ment of fees.
(5) No mem­ber of the leg­is­la­ture, state offi­cer, jus­tice of the supreme court, judge of the court of appeals, or judge of the supe­ri­or court may be charged for any search rel­a­tive to mat­ters per­tain­ing to the duties of his or her office; nor may such offi­cial be charged for a cer­ti­fied copy of any law or res­o­lu­tion passed by the leg­is­la­ture rel­a­tive to his or her offi­cial duties, if such law has not been pub­lished as a state law.

This sec­tion has five sub­sec­tions. Eyman cit­ed the sec­ond subec­tion in his let­ter, writ­ing: “The leg­is­la­ture del­e­gat­ed to your office the author­i­ty to adopt rules estab­lish­ing rea­son­able fees for specif­i­cal­ly iden­ti­fied chap­ters and Titles, but chap­ter 29A.72 RCW gov­ern­ing ini­tia­tives is not listed.”

How­ev­er, it is irrel­e­vant that the sec­ond sub­sec­tion does­n’t men­tion chap­ter 29A.72 since the first sub­sec­tion is applic­a­ble. It says: “The sec­re­tary of state must estab­lish by rule and col­lect the fees in this sub­sec­tion… For a copy of any law, res­o­lu­tion, record, or oth­er doc­u­ment or paper on file in the sec­re­tary’s office” (a) as well as “For record­ing mis­cel­la­neous records, papers, or oth­er doc­u­ments” (e). This first sub­sec­tion encom­pass­es initiatives.

The Leg­is­la­ture explic­it­ly gave the Sec­re­tary of State the author­i­ty to set ini­tia­tive fil­ing fees when writ­ing chap­ter 29A.72 — that is why RCW 29A.72.010 refers to “A fil­ing fee pre­scribed under RCW 43.07.120.” This line would make absolute­ly no sense if RCW 43.07.120 then did­n’t apply to ini­tia­tives as Eyman argues.

You can see for your­self that there is no men­tion of five dol­lars in RCW 29A.72.010. That’s because the dol­lar amount for the ini­tia­tive fil­ing fee isn’t set in state law. It’s set by rule… a rule the Sec­re­tary of State has the author­i­ty to change, and did change after fol­low­ing the req­ui­site process for amend­ing WACs.

Eyman’s argu­ment that the “Leg­is­la­ture has specif­i­cal­ly retained author­i­ty regard­ing the fil­ing fee amount and has repeat­ed­ly decid­ed the amount should remain the same” is laugh­ably false. The oppo­site is actu­al­ly true: when the Leg­is­la­ture did not pass the bills that Sen­a­tor Jeanne Kohl-Welles spon­sored to increase the fil­ing fee in 2007 and 2010, it left the author­i­ty to set the fee with the Sec­re­tary of State. Kohl-Welles had pro­posed amend­ing RCW 29A.72.010 to spec­i­fy a par­tic­u­lar dol­lar amount. Had either of her bills passed, then the fil­ing fee would have become an amount fixed in law, unchange­able by Hobbs.

Here’s the rel­e­vant bit from Kohl-Welles’ first bill, con­sid­ered in 2007:

Sec. 2. RCW 29A.72.010 and 2003 c 111 s 1802 are each amend­ed to read as follows:

If any legal vot­er of the state, either indi­vid­u­al­ly or on behalf of an orga­ni­za­tion, desires to peti­tion the leg­is­la­ture to enact a pro­posed mea­sure, or sub­mit a pro­posed ini­tia­tive mea­sure to th peo­ple, or order that a ref­er­en­dum of all or part of any act, bill, or law, passed by the leg­is­la­ture be sub­mit­ted to the peo­ple, he or she shall file with the sec­re­tary of state a leg­i­ble copy of the mea­sure pro­posed, or the act or part of such act on which a ref­er­en­dum is desired, accom­pa­nied by an affi­davit that the spon­sor is a legal vot­er and a fil­ing fee ((pre­scribed under RCW 43.07.120)) of one hun­dred dol­lars. The fil­ing fee shall be refund­ed in full upon the mea­sure being cer­ti­fied by the sec­re­tary of state for the gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot.

You can see that “pre­scribed under RCW 43.07.120” would have been delet­ed, and a spe­cif­ic dol­lar amount, one hun­dred dol­lars, would have been added. That dol­lar amount would then not have been admin­is­tra­tive­ly adjustable.

But since nei­ther of Kohl-Welles’ bills passed, Sec­re­tary Hobbs was able to not only update the fee, but pro­vide for its con­tin­u­al upward adjust­ment in the future through a change to the Wash­ing­ton Admin­is­tra­tive Code.

Tim Eyman like­ly nev­er con­sid­ered that his oppo­si­tion to Sen­a­tor Kohl-Welles’ leg­is­la­tion would one day set the stage for an even bet­ter change to the fil­ing fee that will pre­vent the fee from going out of date again.

Because Hobbs fol­lowed the law in mak­ing this change to the fee, Eyman’s legal chal­lenge will go nowhere. He and oth­ers will sim­ply have to pay the high­er fee when­ev­er they want to file ini­tia­tives in the future.

As I told The Stan­dard­’s Jer­ry Corn­field, this is fair and rea­son­able:

Every time an ini­tia­tive is filed, work must be per­formed by the Sec­re­tary of State’s elec­tions staff, the Code Revis­er’s staff, and the Attor­ney Gen­er­al’s office. There are costs involved with that work. Elec­tions are a pub­lic ser­vice just like high­ways, tran­sit, parks, libraries, polic­ing, and fire pro­tec­tion — they aren’t free. The updat­ed fil­ing fee oblig­ates spon­sors to pro­vide the same lev­el of finan­cial sup­port for their ini­tia­tive fil­ings that spon­sors in the 1910s had to pro­vide, which is fair and rea­son­able and respect­ful of the pub­lic ser­vants who work for we the peo­ple.

More ini­tia­tive reforms are need­ed to ensure that our sacred pow­ers of ini­tia­tive and ref­er­en­dum are pro­tect­ed from bad actors. We have more good ideas in the pipeline and are look­ing for­ward to bring­ing them to fruition. Our goal is to ensure that the decep­tion and abuse of the past can­not occur in the future.

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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