Clicking on banner ads keeps JWR alive
Jewish World Review April 16, 2002 / 5 Iyar, 5762

John H. Fund

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

'I, Uh, I Have No Comment': A union plays dirty in opposing an antitax initiative -- Citizen lawmaking has long been unpopular with the political class. That's why many state legislatures have made it difficult to get initiatives on the ballot. But unions in Washington state are going beyond even these crass tactics. The state labor council tried to cripple an antitax initiative by encouraging its members to masquerade as interested volunteers and request stacks of blank petitions, clipboards and signs, all in an effort to drain much-needed resources from initiative supporters in the hopes of preventing the collection of enough signatures to get on the ballot.

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 votes.

Comment on JWR contributor John H. Fund's column by clicking here.


03/31/02: Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!: Filibusters can help the Senate GOP get things done
03/14/02: Red-Light District: It's time to draw the line on gerrymandering
02/21/02: Slippery Slope: Can Dick Riordan beat California's Democratic governor?
02/14/02: Reform School: The Shays-Meehan incumbency protection act
02/07/02: Arizona Highway Robbery: Politicians make a grab for campaign cash
01/31/02: Disfranchise Lassie: Even dogs can register to vote. We need election reform with teeth
01/17/02: Dr. King's Greedy Relations: Cashing in on a national hero's legacy
01/10/02: Oil of Vitriol
01/04/02: The little engine that couldn't--and the senators who don't want it to
12/24/01: E-mail and low-cost computers could be conduits for a learning revolution
12/13/01: How Gore could have really won
12/07/01: Let our students keep their cell phones
12/04/01: Why the White House gave the RNC chairman the boot
11/12/01: A Winsome Politician: She won an election in a majority-black district--and she's a Republican
11/01/01: Bush Avoids Politics at His Peril
10/30/01: Cocked Pit: Armed pilots would mean polite skies
10/24/01: Chicken Pox: Hardly anyone has anthrax, but almost everyone has anthrax anxiety
10/11/01: Will Rush Hear Again? New technology may make it possible
10/04/01: Three Kinds of pols
08/24/01: Lauch Out: Who'll replace Jesse Helms?
08/08/01: Tome Alone: Clinton's book will probably end up on the remainder table
08/03/01: Of grubbing and grabbing: Corporation$ and local government$ perfect "public use"
07/31/01: Affairs of State: The Condit case isn't just about adultery. It's about public trust and national security
07/14/01: The First Amendment survives, and everyone has someone to blame for the failure of campaign reform
07/12/01: He's Still Bread: Despite what you've heard, Gary Condit isn't toast --- yet
07/12/01: Passing Lane: Left-wing attacks help boost John Stossel's and Brit Hume's audiences
06/25/01: Man vs. Machine: New Jersey's GOP establishment is doing everything it can to stop Bret Schundler
06/15/01: A Schundler Surprise? Don't count out "the Jack Kemp of New Jersey"
06/06/01: Memo to conservatives: Ignore McCain and maybe he'll go away
05/29/01: Integrity in Politics? Hardly. Jim Jeffords is no Wayne Morse
05/22/01: Davis' answer to California's energy crisis? Hire a couple of Clinton-Gore hatchet men
05/07/01: Prematurely declaring a winner wasn't the networks' worst sin in Florida
04/23/01: How to fix the electoral process --- REALLY!
04/11/01: A conservative hero may mount a California comeback
03/30/01: Can the GOP capture the nation's most closely balanced district?
03/09/01: Terminated
03/06/01: Leave well enough alone
02/22/01: Forgetting our heroes
02/15/01: In 1978 Clinton got a close look at the dangers of selling forgiveness
02/12/01: Clinton owes the country an explanation --- and an appology
02/06/01: How Ronald Reagan changed America
01/16/01: Why block Ashcroft? To demoralize the GOP's most loyal voters
01/15/01: Remembering John Schmitz, a cheerful extremist
12/29/00: Why are all Dems libs pickin' on me?
Dubya's 48% mandate is different than Ford's
12/13/00: Gore would have lost any recount that passed constitutional muster
11/13/00: The People Have Spoken: Will Gore listen?
10/25/00: She's really a Dodger
09/28/00: Locking up domestic oil?
09/25/00: Hillary gives new meaning to a "woman with a past"
09/21/00: Ignore the Polls. The Campaign Isn't Over Yet

©2001, John H. Fund