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Spin Control

Sun., June 27, 2010, 6:25 a.m.

Let’s get real and just sell space on the ballot

Washington voters are on track to have at least nine statewide measures on the Nov. 2 ballot, which would be a state record. While some applaud this as a triumph of direct democracy, it is, more accurately, a triumph of electoral capitalism.
Along with three referenda placed on the ballot by the Legislature, the six initiatives seemingly destined for the ballot are beneficiaries of substantial corporate sponsorship, which provided money to pay people who gather signatures on their petitions.
Relying on volunteers to gather signatures has become so 20th Century, although a seventh initiative, to legalize marijuana, might succeed if its supporters can stay motivated through July 2. Meanwhile the paid campaigns are booking dates to turn in petitions with a hundred thousand or more extra signatures.
Early contributions to some successful petition drives are so substantial it only makes sense to dispense with the alpha-numeric designations to initiatives and award naming rights. . .

. . .That would certainly clear up confusion in the competing measures to kick the state out of the liquor business.
The average voter will have a very difficult time telling the difference between I-1100 and I-1105, which both start with the words “This measure would close state liquor stores…” and talk about repealing requirements or revising laws connected to alcohol. It would be so much easier if we could just call I-1100 the Costco booze initiative, in honor of the company that’s donated some $842,000 in cash and employee efforts to that campaign, and I-1105 the Youngs Market/Odom Southern distributors booze initiative, after the two companies serving as the deep pockets for that effort.
One added benefit of this system would be to make clear who benefits more from the passage of one plan over the other – retailers or wholesalers – because it’s a sure bet each will spend the next five months insisting voters will benefit enormously from their plan.
I-1107, which would repeal recent taxes on soda, bottled water, candy and some processed foods, could be “rebranded” the American Beverage Association anti-tax initiative. After all, the $1.7 million the ABA has pumped into that campaign is just shy of the $2 million paid each year for naming rights to Mariners’ stadium, and Safeco gets its name in letters you can see for miles.
Some initiatives might need double billing because of multiple “angels.” I-1082 could become the Building Industry Association of Washington initiative, brought to you by Liberty Mutual Group. BIAW should get top billing because it drafted the proposal to add private insurance to the state’s worker’s compensation system and popped for a half mill, but Liberty should get something for its 300 grand.
Similarly, I-1098, which would put an income tax on people making more than $200,000 a year, could be the William Gates income tax, brought to you by the Service Employees International Union, in honor of its prominent proponent and its biggest source of cash.
The credit taking could get annoyingly long – sort of like the opening of a Hollywood movie that is brought to you by this major studio in conjunction with that minor studio, this film group and some other production company – but it seems fair to at least recognize the early big money.
What about those who spend big against an initiative, like the trial lawyers opposing I-1082? Maybe they could have the naming rights to the “No” box on the ballot.
The real problem might be what to call I-1053, which seeks to restore the two-thirds majority requirements for any tax increase. Many people already shorthand it for its prime sponsor, Tim Eyman. But with an Eyman initiative every year, that’s not terribly enlightening. It doesn’t have a six-figure donor at this point, although it has Conoco Phillips, Tesoro and the state bankers in for $25K each, and state restaurateurs in for $20K. It could be the Eyman two-thirds redo, brought to you by gas ups, loan outs and chow downs. A bit long, but the state could give Eyman and friends until signatures are verified to award the naming rights for a six-figure buy-in.
What? You say we can’t let large corporate, professional or labor interests pay to clutter up the ballot? Clearly, you are not following the Public Disclosure Commission contribution reports.

For a list of the donors who have given $100,000 or more to the initiative campaigns so far, click here.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.