Is Tim Eyman through?
This was the implied question of some recent emails making the rounds through the business community.
Is the initiative king’s 15-year run of anti-tax influence history?
This isn’t just liberal wishful thinking. Last week, Jan Gee, president of a state association for grocery stores, the Washington Food Industry Association, sent an email to the Association of Washington Business and some other corporate leaders urging them to begin planning for what politics is going to look like around here A.E.
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“There are serious discussions in the business community that Eyman has gotten off track and isn’t coming back,” Gee told me. “We are now having the discussion about what he’s going to be replaced with going forward.”
Eyman’s initiative campaign this year did not qualify for the ballot. It’s the first time since 2006 there won’t be an Eyman anti-tax, anti-spending or anti-mass-transit measure helping drive the state’s politics.
“Qualifying an initiative for the ballot is brutally difficult,” Eyman wrote in a statement last week. “We fell short this time — we’ll just have to work even harder next time.”
But it wasn’t lack of effort. It was lack of money. Eyman’s business backers have abandoned him, at least for now.
In recent election cycles, 2009 through 2012, Eyman raised an average of $1.1 million a year. It peaked in 2012, when his tax-limiting Initiative 1185 raised $1.4 million, almost all of it from large corporations or their associations (the beer industry, big oil, restaurants, etc.). All were seeking to resist a drive in the Legislature to raise taxes.
This year Eyman raised only about one-tenth that amount and couldn’t afford to hire professional signature gatherers. In the past he’s had some wealthy individual donors, but they didn’t step up this year. One of them, Michael Dunmire, of Woodinville, died in March. But more notable was that Eyman got next to nothing from business.
Gee’s grocery-store association donated to Eyman’s measures in 2010 and 2012. He was seen as the best counterweight around to keep a lid on taxes. But she feels he inappropriately used the association’s money on a different initiative that she didn’t support (Initiative 517, which sought to give signature gatherers more leeway in front of stores).
In May representatives from three trade associations — the Northwest Grocery Association, the Washington Retail Association and Gee’s WFIA — all showed up at a Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) meeting to implore the agency to investigate Eyman’s use of campaign money.
The agency says it is doing an investigation and has stepped it up in recent weeks, though the alleged infractions were two years ago. But it won’t issue a finding until September at the earliest, said Lori Anderson of the PDC.
Eyman hasn’t returned my calls or emails for the past few weeks.
If I know Eyman, the reports of his death are greatly exaggerated. But there’s no doubt his initiative business has been slim pickings of late.
“The talk of the business crowd is how he’s scrambling for income and revenue,” Gee said. “There’s been a definite cooling. But I would never be one to say the stake has been driven through the heart of Tim Eyman.”
I voted for only one of Eyman’s often gimmicky measures (the one for performance audits of government agencies, back in 2005). So if his operation is down for the count I won’t much miss it.
But still I always agreed with his basic premise — that citizens should be able to petition their government directly for change. To me, what’s happening to him now is ironically symptomatic of the demise of the entire process. Initiatives have become captive to big corporate money, the uber-wealthy or huge special-interest groups.
There are no citizens anymore in citizens’ initiatives.
Of course after starting out using volunteers, Eyman long ago chose to live by the big-money game, exploiting it even. Back when the getting was good, he vigorously argued against many reforms (I once debated him on KCTS on this exact topic).
Today he isn’t talking. That’s the way politics rolls these days.
Now that he doesn’t have the money, I guess he has become another voiceless citizen like everybody else.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or email@example.com