Jewish World Review April 16, 2002 / 5 Iyar, 5762
John H. Fund
The sabotage directed against Initiative 776, which would roll back the car-licensing tax, began with an e-mail to some 100 union leaders from Diane McDaniel, political director of the Washington State Labor Council. "Your assistance is needed to help slow down & stop the collection of signatures for I-776, the Tim (Lieman) Eyman creation that would further weaken our state's transportation funding," the e-mail began. It then asked the union leaders to "request that a Patriot Packet (campaign kit) be mailed to you" and that they "forward this request to family members, co-workers, etc. and ask them to do the same."
Ms. McDaniel wasn't shy in explaining her motives. She said that because the I-776 sponsors lacked the financial means to hire a paid signature-gathering firm that mailing "hundreds (and perhaps thousands) of packets out" will "cost them valuable campaign resources" and "help use up their supply of petitions." She helpfully added: "Don't use your union's mailing address. Too many requests to send to union halls will tip our hand." Her closing included another appeal to "help us slow down and kill I-776."
A dissident union member alerted initiative supporters of the plan. About 30 suspicious requests for packets came in after Ms. McDaniel's e-mail--including some from union e-mail addresses--before I-776 backers blew the whistle.
Chuck Jewell, a member of the Snohomish County Labor Council, was tongue-tied when asked why he requested a Patriot Packet and forwarded the McDaniel e-mail to nine friends. "I just wanted to see the package and see what it was," he told the Spokane Spokesman Review. "And I, uh, I have no comment."
Ms. McDaniel did have a comment for the media. She was unapologetic and argued her e-mail was a legitimate political tactic against a group of "antitax zealots" whose measures are leading to the closure of libraries and parks--a dubious contention at best. "The unions that comprise the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO have asked us to oppose I-776, the latest threat to our state and local governments," she declared in a statement. "The e-mail I sent out was part of that effort. Nothing in that e-mail violates any campaign laws or regulations."
State officials aren't sure what to make of the labor council's brazen tactics. "It may be improper, but not illegal," claims John Pearson, an official at the secretary of state's office. While it's against the law to interfere with a person who collects signatures for an initiative, it's not clear if the council's e-mail crosses any legal lines, says Assistant Attorney General Jeff Even. "Obviously, it smacks of dirty pool."
Lawyers, who aren't involved in the case, told me a civil or criminal case could be made against the council for soliciting "theft by deception." Certainly the unions could use a stern warning from law enforcement. This isn't the first time their ferocious opposition to antitax initiatives has led them into dubious legal territory. Last year, unions wanted to derail I-747, a property tax limitation initiative that ultimately won 57% approval by voters. Chris Dugovich, the president of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, initialed a secret memo opposing I-747 that instructed union activists to "try to stop or at least slow down their ability to gain signatures." The memo also asked union officials to collect the names of I-747 signature gatherers.
A union official I spoke with privately acknowledged that both last year's e-mail and the latest one were "unfortunate" but said publicity about them was designed to distract attention from the "ethical clouds" swirling over Tim Eyman, a leader of Permanent Offense, the group sponsoring I-776. Indeed, last Friday the staff of the state's Public Disclosure Commission issued a critical report on Mr. Eyman's management of Permanent Offense. It concluded that he had violated campaign regulations by concealing a salary he paid himself from funds raised for the initiative and paying expenses for his private business from his campaign funds. If found to be in violation, Mr. Eyman faces a fine of up to $2,500. His attorney, Bill Glueck, argues nothing improper was done and any compensation to Mr. Eyman was "for his time, effectiveness and hard work."
One consequence of detailed campaign-finance laws seems to be that allegations of irregularities by conservative groups are often vigorously pursued, fueled by watchful media that routinely support such laws. But vigorous enforcement isn't always the case with accusations against liberal or union groups, as my colleague William McGurn has pointed out in a series of articles on the National Education Association's questionable coordination of its political activities with Democratic campaigns. Efforts to microregulate campaign activities--such as the recently enacted McCain-Feingold law--carry with them a danger that they will protect incumbents who can afford to hire armies of lawyers and accountants, lead to less robust political debate and discourage citizen participation in efforts like citizen initiative campaigns.
That said, any campaign laws on the books must be enforced without favoritism. If Mr. Eyman deserves close scrutiny for his leadership of the I-776 campaign, surely efforts to bankrupt it and keep I-776 off the ballot merit a full investigation--especially given a previous effort to block an initiative last year was ignored by law enforcement. One reason the initiative process remains popular with voters is that it's a final trump card against entrenched incumbents who often feel free to ignore voters. Stealth efforts to block initiatives from even reaching the voters through sabotage can be just as much a denial of democracy as improperly disqualifying a candidate or stealing
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