Figures listed in the Public Disclosure Commission show that the majority of funding that has placed initiatives on the November ballot have come from corporate donors.
All fundraising and expenditures for candidates and initiatives must by law be recorded by the PDC to create transparency to voters regarding campaign funding. Ironically, the PDC was established in 1973 after enough signatures were placed on the ballot to make reporting mandatory.
The purpose of the initiative process was to allow citizens to play a role in creating the laws that have an effect on them. But some have questioned the authenticity of the grassroots movement as corporate donations have enabled the use of paid signature gatherers and advertising.
“It’s not actually Tim Eyman’s initiative anymore,” Villeneuve said. “It’s actually BP’s initiative. It’s Conoco Phillips initiative. It’s Tesoro’s initiative, along with Bank of America and other corporations.”
Initiative 1053 is listed at the PDC under the names Citizens for Responsible Spending and Voters Want More Choices. To date a cumulative amount of $65,000 has been donated by BP, a British owned company. Conoco Phillips and Tesoro have each contributed $50,000. Bank of America has donated $10,000. The list is extensive and it is made up primarily of corporate donors.
More than $6 million dollars has gone into I-1107, known as Stop the Food and Beverage Tax Hikes, for the American Beverage Association – which includes Pepsi and Coca-Cola.
Costco has donated in excess of $800,000 to I-1100, known as Modernize Washington, which would allow the privatization of liquor sales in Washington State.
“Every corporation is trying to maximize their own bottom line,” Villeneuve said. “They want to be able to maximize profits and not be responsible for the messes they create.”
According to Villeneuve, in the case of some of the oil companies that have refineries on Puget Sound, they are trying to stonewall legislation that environmentalists have been trying to pass through congress to increase hazardous substance fees.
“Eyman’s 1053 is basically designed to jam the gears of democracy by saying that the legislature can’t approve any new revenue without a two-thirds vote.” Villeneuve explained. “It will only take one-third to kill a bill. Majority rule gets subverted in the process.”
According to Villeneuve, many politicians will not want to risk losing their biggest campaign donors and will therefore vote against bills that will cost those companies money.
Rep. Steve Kirby (D-Tacoma) agreed that the initiative process is no longer based on citizen action.
“All it takes is money. It doesn’t matter where it comes from,” Kirby said. “Now it’s all done by rich people and corporate money. It’s one of the easiest ways to subvert the system. It’s a way to turn it on its ear.”
According to Kirby, not only do donors not have to be from Washington State, but neither do those that gather signatures.
“It’s a highly organized business. Some will even fly in small armies of gatherers in on planes from out of state,” Kirby said.
Signature gathers are not required to be knowledgeable on the issue nor accurately disclose the intent of the behind the initiative.
“It’s a problem,” Kirby said.”The courts have allowed them to lie under protection of the First Amendment.”
The initiative process itself could be eliminated by an initiative. But all sides want the option, he said. Legitimate interests use the initiative process, and some even use paid gatherers.
Kirby said that public disclosure is the best tool there is for now. As far as making the process more fair and transparent, Kirby doesn’t see a clear answer.
“It’s possible there’s something we haven’t thought of yet,” he said. “But powerful corporations hire lawyers.”