This we think we know: Citizens are hacked off at their government. It's been the story for months.
This we think we know: Citizens are hacked off at their government.
It’s been the story for months. Citizens shouting. Citizens organizing. In Olympia this year, citizens filed the largest number of initiatives — in which your idea can go right around the powerful and straight to the people — in the state’s history.
Except now, five weeks out from the voting? About the hardest thing to find in the citizens’ initiative is an actual citizen.
You may have heard that the campaigns for the six initiatives that made the Nov. 2 ballot are going to be, by far, the costliest ever put on here.
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It’s true — to the tune of $40 million. But what’s striking is how little of that comes from regular people who live here. And how much of it comes from interest groups pushing the narrowest and most self-serving of agendas.
Take Initiative 1107, the push to repeal some soda and candy taxes passed in the spring by the Legislature.
That anti-tax drive, when it started up, had the feel of a populist revolt. I heard it touted at tea-party rallies: Taxing soda is hitting the little guy right where he drinks.
But today, Initiative 1107 is practically citizen-free.
Nearly $15 million has been donated to the two sides battling it out — a record for a state ballot-issue campaign. But only $200 of this total (0.0013 percent) is from actual people.
More than $14 million of it was put in by a single out-of-state group, the American Beverage Association. In all, only seven Washington citizens were motivated enough to write a check — either for or against.
OK, so the soda-pop people are so flush with cash they aren’t exactly beating the political bushes for more.
So let’s look at the two measures to privatize liquor sales here, Initiatives 1100 and 1105. The more active, I-1100, is soliciting donors on its website, where its measure is hailed as “the consumer’s choice.”
Yet only 14 people who could possibly be called “consumers” have donated to I-1100. Corporations, mostly Costco, Safeway and Wal-Mart, gave 99.9 percent of the campaign’s $2.6 million.
The other liquor initiative, I-1105, is a poster child for how citizens initiatives have been taken over by special interests. The group that brought it to the ballot calls itself “Washington Citizens for Liquor Reform.” Yet it didn’t get a single donation from a Washington citizen.
On the other side, the group opposing the liquor initiatives calls itself “Protect Our Communities.” It named itself that as if it’s from around here.
But almost all of its $6.2 million war chest comes from out-of-state beer-wholesaling companies, which don’t want grocery shelves here opened up to hard liquor. Only about 20 people total have contributed to this group (and most of those are workers at state liquor stores, who stand to lose their jobs if either liquor law passes).
It goes on. Initiative 1082, to privatize the state’s workers’ compensation system, is almost entirely bought and paid for by insurance companies.
And it was placed on the ballot by the Building Industry Association of Washington, a trade group that last week was fined more than half a million dollars for flouting campaign-finance law in the 2008 election.
Even Tim Eyman went more corporate than usual this year.
His Initiative 1053, to limit the Legislature’s tax-raising ability, has the type of stick-it-to-the-man appeal that you might think would get Joe Six-Pack to the ramparts.
Yet it’s on the ballot due to big cash from out-of-state oil companies such as BP, Tesoro and Conoco, which want to block any new oil taxes. Only about 12 percent of his more than $1 million came from individuals, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
There’s only one issue that has attracted much citizen involvement — the proposal to bring Washington an income tax.
But it isn’t so much the pro-income-tax side, which is getting the lion’s share of its money from public-employee unions and Bill Gates’ dad.
It’s the 1098 opponents. Theirs is the only statewide issue campaign that has prompted a few thousand local citizens to write a check — including, the campaign says, some 800 who have given less than $25.
Campaigns like that — with local people energized to fight out important local issues — used to be more common.
“The citizen initiative was once seen as a remedy for the domination of industry and other powerful interests over the legislative process,” the PDC recalled, wistfully, in a report last month.
Now initiatives are just another weapon in that same onslaught. A tool for “corporations, unions, trade and professional associations,” the agency concluded.
Imagine what we could do with the $40 million that’s instead being wasted, in our names, in this mostly venal election.
If citizens are going to be hacked off about anything, the hijacking of their political voice would be a place to start.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.