Initiative 517 is a Tim Eyman initiative that is on the November 2013 ballot in Washington State. It is a measure to promote Tim Eyman’s business – which is making a living off of putting conservative libertarian measures on the ballot. In this case Eyman wants to create a 25 foot signature gathering zone around petitioners where people can not speak out and oppose his business. It is a direct infringement on the free speech rights of citizens, violating the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.
Jason Mercier of the conservative “free market” Washington Policy Center writes about Initiative 517 in today’s Thedailyworld.com under a headline of “Heavy hitters line up against I-517“. Mercier in his opinion piece brushes aside some of the concerns about Eyman’s self serving initiative as non-controversial. That is not the reality.
This measure is not as uncontroversial as Jason Mercier suggests. One of Eyman’s provisions is to create a 25 foot no harassment zone around signature gatherers. There are already penalties for harassment that work just fine. I-517 tries to go much further by shutting down free speech activities around petition gatherers.
Eyman’s measure infringes on 1st amendment rights by setting up a 25 zone around petitioners saying that certain activity can result in disorderly conduct charges including activity that is “…intimidating, or maintaining an intimidating presence within twenty-five feet of any person gathering signatures”. To most petitioners someone standing 5 feet away and carrying a sign saying “do not sign this measure” or merely saying out loud that citizens should read the measure before signing it causes petitioners to say they are being harassed.
This measure is an attempt to shut down public discourse and dialogue in public places and silence those opposing Eyman’s measures. This violates 1st amendment free speech rights and goes too far. Eyman wants a free pass to collect signatures without anyone questioning him. Trying to silence those that dissent peacefully with others is what you would expect in a totalitarian society, but not in America.
We will publish more of our concerns about Initiative 517 over the next few months but believe it goes too far. The public strongly supply the initiative process in Washington State and it has been used by both right and left leaning groups in pushing Washington policy and law. But there is a balancing act necessary to protect rights of both supporters and opponents of specific initiative measures in the public arena.
Initiative 517 is a “solution” looking for a problem and there isn’t one in this case. Eyman has not had a problem getting initiatives on the ballot and neither have others, especially if they have money. This measure would make it easier for Eyman to get more of his measures on the ballot and that is why he is pushing it.
For progressives thinking this will make it easier for them to get measures on the ballot, the downside is that they will also have to spend more time fighting more conservative measures put on the ballot by Eyman, including those at the local level. It’s already hard enough to fight an Eyman measure year after year. Think what it will be like with two or three Eyman measures on the ballot each year and 4 or 5 others at the same time at the local level.
We elect a Legislature to do the people’s business after public hearings and review. While initiatives are a healthy outlet for the public to act when the legislature doesn’t, running our state more and more by initiative puts the process of making our state laws up for sale to the highest bidder.
Unfortunately the highest bidder is usually corporate and special interests that can afford to spend millions to get their message out to the voting public.
The Washington State Democratic Party voted at it’s February 2, 2013 statewide meeting in Olympia to oppose Tim Eyman’s Initiative 517. Initiative 517 is an initiative to the Washington State Legislature. The Washington Secretary of State has certified that I-517 received sufficient signatures. As such it goes to the Washington State Legislature for consideration. They have 3 options – ignore in in which case it goes onto the Nov. 2013 ballot, pass it in which case it becomes law, or pass an alternative in which case both I-517 and the alternative go on the Nov. 2013 ballot.
The following is a copy of the resolution the Washington State Democrats passed to oppose Initiative 517.
A Resolution Opposing Initiative Measure No. 517
WHEREAS perennial initiative promoter Tim Eyman of Mukilteo has sponsored and submitted signatures for Initiative 517, a measure to the 2013 Legislature that has purposely been written to make it easier and cheaper for Eyman to operate his profit- generating initiative factory under the guise of protecting the initiative process;
WHEREAS that after admitting in February 2002 that he stole more than $157,000 of his own supporters’ money for his personal use and lied about it, Tim Eyman told the Associated Press, “I want to continue to advocate issues and I want to make a lot of money doing it”;
WHEREAS in that same interview with the Associated Press, Tim Eyman said, “This entire charade was set up so I could maintain a moral superiority over our opposition, so I could say our opponents make money from politics and I don’t”;
WHEREAS Public Disclosure Commission data shows that since 1999 and except for 2003 and 2006, Tim Eyman has promoted and qualified an initiative for the November ballot every single year with the backing of powerful special interests like Great Canadian Gaming, Bellevue developer and light rail opponent Kemper Freeman, Jr., Woodinville investment banker Michael Dunmire, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, plus big oil companies such as BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips, and Tesoro;
WHEREAS each summer and autumn since 2003, Tim Eyman and his associates Mike and Jack Fagan of Spokane have asked their followers and wealthy benefactors to contribute to their “Help Us Help Taxpayers” compensation fund, which they divide up for their own personal use;
WHEREAS Tim Eyman’s history of sponsoring and profiting from unconstitutional and destructive initiatives demonstrates that he is primarily interested in making money while wrecking the plan of government that our founders gave us, not improving the lives of Washington’s people or strengthening Washington’s many diverse communities;
WHEREAS Initiative 517 would extend from six to twelve months the period of time permitted for signature gathering for an initiative to the people, allowing Tim Eyman and his associates, Jack Fagan, Mike Fagan, Edward Agazarm and Roy Ruffino to make collecting signatures for initiatives to the people a more profitable and lucrative year- round business;
WHEREAS Initiative 517 attempts to prevent Washingtonians from exercising their First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly in a “Decline to Sign” campaign by making it a misdemeanor to maintain an “intimidating presence” within “twenty-five feet of any person gathering signatures or any person trying to sign any initiative or referendum petition”; and
WHEREAS Initiative 517 dubiously requires leaders of cities, counties, and other local jurisdictions that provide for their own initiative process to place any initiative with sufficient voter signatures on the ballot for a public vote at public expense, even if the initiative in question concerns a matter that exceeds the lawful scope of the local initiative power;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Washington State Democrats take a position opposing I-517 before the Washington State Legislature and on the November 2013 ballot; and
THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Washington State Democrats encourage all Washingtonians to join the coalition opposing I-517 and campaign actively for the defeat of I-517.
Tim Eyman’s Initiative 517 was certified on January 23rd by the Washington Secretary of State’s office. I-517 is an initiative to the legislature. If, as likely, the legislature chooses not to act on it, it will be placed on the November 5, 2013 ballot. The legislature has an option to put an alternative on the ballot with it.
The official ballot title and summary for I-517 is:
Initiative Measure No. 517 concerns initiative and referendum measures.
This measure would set penalties for interfering with or retaliating against signature-gatherers and petition-signers; require that all measures receiving sufficient signatures appear on the ballot; and extend time for gathering initiative petition signatures.
Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]
Ballot Measure Summary
This measure would define terms concerning interfering with or retaliating against petition-signers and signature-gatherers, and would make such conduct a criminal misdemeanor and subject to anti-harassment laws. The measure would require that all state and local measures receiving enough signatures be placed on the ballot, limiting pre-election legal challenges. The measure would also extend the time for filing initiatives and gathering signatures from ten to sixteen months before the election when the vote would occur.
Initiative 517 is not needed and should be rejected by both the Washington State Legislature and the voters.
Initiative 517 – which Tim Eyman calls the “Protect the Initiative Act” is really the “Protect Tim Eyman’s Profit Machine Initiative“. Tim started initiative efforts in 1995 and by 1999 they had become his primary business. This is an initiative meant to increase Tim’s business of putting right wing conservative measures on the ballot in Washington State.
I-517 is Tim Eyman’s attempt to increase his initiative business to a year round activity, guarantee more markets for his initiatives by requiring cities and counties to put them on the ballot, and eliminate any opposition to people signing his measures by expanding anti harassment laws to try to unconstitutionally limit free speech rights of others.
As explained on the website opposing Initiative 517:
Initiative 517 has three main provisions:
- It would double the period of time permitted for signature gathering for an initiative to the people, allowing Tim Eyman and his associates, Jack Fagan, Mike Fagan, Edward Agazarm and Roy Ruffino to make collecting signatures for initiatives to the people a more profitable and lucrative year-round business.
- It attempts to prevent Washingtonians from exercising their First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly in a “Decline to Sign” campaign by making it a misdemeanor to maintain an “intimidating presence” within “twenty-five feet of any person gathering signatures or any person trying to sign any initiative or referendum petition”.
- It dubiously requires leaders of cities, counties, and other local jurisdictions that provide for their own initiative process to place any initiative with sufficient voter signatures on the ballot for a public vote at public expense, even if the initiative in question concerns a matter that exceeds the lawful scope of the local initiative power.
Laws already exist to deal with harassment within our state. What Eyman is proposing is to expand those laws so that anyone opposed to his initiatives would be prevented from coming with 25 feet of a petitioner. This is a violation of free speech. Because words like intimidation and harassment can take on many common meanings, the first amendment rights of citizens opposing a measure, such as merely urging people to read a measure before signing it, could cause them to be subject to arrest.
USlegal.com for instance says the following about harassment, which should give any free speech advocates cause for concern regarding giving petitioners special rights superior to those of other citizens.
“Harassment is governed by state laws, which vary by state, but is generally defined as a course of conduct which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety. Harassment is unwanted, unwelcomed and uninvited behavior that demeans, threatens or offends the victim and results in a hostile environment for the victim. Harassing behavior may include, but is not limited to, epithets, derogatory comments or slurs and lewd propositions, assault, impeding or blocking movement, offensive touching or any physical interference with normal work or movement, and visual insults, such as derogatory posters or cartoons.
Now the problem is that of course anyone who stands say 5 feet away from a petitioner with a sign that says “Read this initiative before you sign it. It is a terrible initiative” or something to that effect would obviously “annoy” a petitioner. The petitioner could consider it a “derogatory poster”. The petitioner could consider it a “hostile environment”. But if the sign holder is not physically assaulting a petitioner or blocking a petitioner from having people sign a petition, why should the sign holder lose his right of free speech. Why should he be harassed and threatened with being arrested. Tolerance and fairness is required on both sides. Free speech for all is guaranteed under the US Constitution, not just those on one side of an issue.
Eyman wants to create a special class of free speech rights for paid petitioners so he can, without public debate, more easily secure a place on the ballot. It is his business and he is asking for special rights for helping his business put more money in his pocket. Next he will be claiming that only his side should be able to speak publicly at public forums regarding the merits of an initiative since anyone speaking against his initiative is “harassing”him.
As former Secretary of State Sam Reed wrote in his official statement in 2012 on the secretary of state’s website regarding “Filing Initiatives and Referenda in Washington State”
“Do I have the right to urge people not to sign a petition?
Yes, as a matter of freedom of speech. Opponents of an initiative or referendum can certainly express the opinion that it would not be a good idea for a voter to sign a petition. An opponent, however, does
not have the right to interfere with the petition process. In fact, it is a gross misdemeanor to interfere with somebody else’s right to sign a petition, and there are also laws against assaulting people. You can certainly express your opinion, but you must remember that other people have rights to their opinions as well, including the right to sign petitions you may not like.
This principle works both ways, of course. Neither side of an initiative or referendum campaign has the right to prevent the other from expressing opinions.”
Here is part of the language Eyman is proposing to add
(1) A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if the person: …
(e) Interferes with or retaliates against a person collecting signatures or signing any initiative or referendum petition by pushing, shoving, touching, spitting, throwing objects, yelling, screaming, being verbally abusive, blocking or intimidating, or other tumultuous conduct or maintaining an intimidating presence within twenty-five feet of any person gathering signatures or any person trying to sign any initiative or referendum petition. (2) Disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor.
So most of the language would fall under current harassment law but “the maintaining an intimidating presence within twenty-five feet of any person gathering signatures or any person trying to sign an initiative or referendum petition” is so vague and subjective that it can easily be abused by any petitioner who wants to stop anyone opposing them . This proposed initiative is not needed and is a threat to free speech. It is frankly unconstitutional .
Chances are pretty good that another Tim Eyman initiative will be on next year’s ballot. It’s been under the radar and has gotten little scrutiny. Initiative 517 - called the “Protect the Initiative Act” is an initiative to the Legislature. It’s basic provisions are to extend the time allowed to collect signatures by an extra six months, make it a misdemeanor to interfere or harass signature gatherers, allow more local initiatives and prevent pre-election legal challenges to initiatives. The deadline to collect signatures and turn them in is January 3rd, 2013.
Eyman filed I-517 on May 4th, 2012 and quietly piggybacked it on his I-1185 campaign signature gathering efforts. As noted in the Tacoma News Tribune on September 6, 2012, a complaint was filed with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission charging that as a result of this piggybacking, I-517 illegally used money intended to pay for Eyman’s I-1185 signatures. The TNT noted that “Through July alone, the campaign picked up 144,000 signatures …” of some 320,000 required by Jan 3, 2013. To date the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) has not acted publicly on this complaint. One can well argue that this is a self serving initiative to benefit Tim Eyman and his initiative business. It is special interest legislation that would give Eyman the ability to do more initiative campaigns and at a lower cost. That is hardly what Washington State needs – more Eyman initiatives.
According to the most recent Public Disclosure Commission reports, Eyman has raised no money to fund this initiative. Instead he reports that all the signature gathering to date paid for has been in kind donations by others. The bulk of the money spent in kind has been by an out of state conservative foundation called – Citizens in Charge out of Lakeridge, VA. To date they have donated in kind some $168,806.38 out of a total of $305,454 reported in kind total. Here is a breakdown of reported in kind donations from the PDC reports.
Citizens in Charge, Lakeridge, VA – $168, 806.38
People’s Petitioning, Edmonds, WA – $42,712
First Amendment, LLC, Olympia, WA – $7267.50
The remainder of the money, some $86,305 is now listed as individual in kind donations, mostly by paid signature gatherers. This is Eyman’s attempt to get around the complaint that signature gatherers for I-1185 subsidized signature gathering for I-517. The problem is, if you read some of the e-mails involved, that appears to be a big question. Paid signature gatherers for I-1185 were told among other things that they had to also get signatures for I–517 or they would be fired. Here is that part of the story as reported by the Tacoma News Tribune:
The PDC is investigating whether I-517 illegally used part of the money intended for I-1185.
That’s what’s alleged by critics such as Rick Walther. The Auburn signature gatherer says he was fired for refusing to reduce payments to his subcontractors for I-1185 signatures unless they also collected for I-517.
He said he and other gatherers were expected to take the money out of what had already been promised to them for the business-backed measure.
“All this money’s still coming from 1185,” Walther said of the arrangements. “There’s no new money for 517. They’re just moving funds around.”
The campaign denies using any money from I-1185 – instead leaning on petitioners’ interest in the topic to drive a volunteer effort. …
Directing the I-517 effort is Edward Agazarm, nicknamed “Eddie Spaghetti,” a fixture of Washington’s voter-petition industry.
His emails don’t exactly make it sound like a volunteer effort.
“If you don’t bring in equal numbers you are fired,” Agazarm wrote to another signature-gathering contractor, in what critics say is an order to collect a voter signature on I-517 for every signature petitioners were paid to collect on I-1185.
“Every petitioner in the state should get free SIGNATURES ON IT or else they should be fired, then stoned to death in a public square,” he said in another email.
So one has to ask why the PDC has not yet acted on this complaint with formal charges of some sort or referred the matter to the State Attorney General for more severe action than the PDC can impose. The e-mails are pretty explicit that paid signature gatherers were coerced into collecting signatures for I-517 in order to be paid for I-1185 signatures. Will Eyman once again just get a slap on the wrist and continue on his merry way carrying on his initiative mill that helps pay his personal bills or will the PDC act forcefully by referring this matter to the Washington State Attorney General?
Here is more specific information on I-517:
|Protect the Initiative Act|
Initiative Measure No. 517 concerns initiative and referendum measures.This measure would set penalties for interfering with or retaliating against signature-gatherers and petition-signers; require that all measures receiving sufficient signatures appear on the ballot; and extend time for gathering initiative petition signatures.Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]Ballot Measure Summary
This measure would define terms concerning interfering with or retaliating against petition-signers and signature-gatherers, and would make such conduct a criminal misdemeanor and subject to anti-harassment laws. The measure would require that all state and local measures receiving enough signatures be placed on the ballot, limiting pre-election legal challenges. The measure would also extend the time for filing initiatives and gathering signatures from ten to sixteen months before the election when the vote would occur.View Complete Text
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