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Spin Control

Sat., Oct. 12, 2013, 6:06 p.m.

Sunday spin: I-517 seeking attention

OLYMPIA – Supporters of Initiative 517, which may be struggling as the other initiative on the November ballot, tried to get some traction last week with what they said is a “shocking trend” in Washington politics.

This fight for attention is a tough one . . . .

. . . considering I-522, on the labeling of genetically modified foods, is a fairly easy to grasp issue and has some $5 million to spend on the Yes side and more than $17 million on the No side. I-517, on the other hand, is an initiative about initiatives, with a Yes campaign fund of about $1,500 and opponents with about $225,000.

To ramp up the volume on I-517, campaign chairmen Eddie Agazarm and Mark Baerwaldt worried in an e-mail about the rising number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot and the rising cost of collecting them.

From 1997 through 2000, an initiative needed about 179,000 signatures, and the average cost was about $342,000. For the next four years, an initiative needed about 198,000 signatures, and the average cost was $676,000. Then it was 225,000 signatures, with an average cost of $713,000, and through 2012 it was 241,000 signatures, average cost $1.4 million.

“This exponential cost escalation is because since 1912, the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot has skyrocketed almost tenfold, while the time to manually collect signatures has remained the same at six months,” they wrote.

It’s a campaign, so we’ll give them a pass on the hyperbole about an exponential increase in costs when it’s really a doubling between 2000 and 2004, and between 2008 and 2012. But the main thrust of their argument has two basic flaws. First, the number of signatures is a fraction of the number of votes in the previous cycle for governor, so the number of signatures goes up because the number of voters goes up. With more voters available, a popular initiative with willing volunteers wouldn’t have any more trouble qualifying in the same time period.

Initiatives about more obscure topics, or written by more narrow interest groups will have more trouble, and they will have to pay people to gather signatures. Washington has seen a wide array of those ballot measures, particularly in the last 20 years, and they have spent big bucks. In a couple of cases, they qualified in weeks, not months, so they don’t need more time.

Among the people benefiting from this shift, is Agazarm, who for years operated Citizens Solutions, a business that collects signatures for initiatives.

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