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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

This is grass-roots democracy?

Friday’s deadline for turning in initiatives demonstrated clearly that letting voters approve legislation at the ballot box might still be an exercise of government of the people, but getting a measure on the ballot is all about money.
Of some 55 proposals that were filed this year and a half-dozen or so that made at some level of effort to gather signatures, only two reached the deadline with enough names to make the ballot. Both relied heavily on large infusions of cash from businesses or wealthy donors to pay people to collect those names. ..

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. . . Initiative 1240 collected some 350,000 signatures in about three weeks, which rivals last year’s “get the state out of the booze biz” initiative. And they didn’t even have the built-in advantage of I-1183’s main supporter Costco, which could tap a ready stream of potential signers by tapping the hordes of shoppers streaming through its doors.
Supporters wouldn’t say Friday how much they paid for signatures, or to whom, insisting it will all be revealed later this week, as required by law. They seemed so unaware of the purveyor of names that one had to wonder if they wrote a series of six-figure checks to a signature firm and left the “Pay to the Order of” line blank, telling some anonymous company rep “Oh, just fill it in with your company stamp back at the office.”
Tim Eyman & Co. also relied at least partly on paid signature gatherers. I-1185 was the first initiative filed in January and had several months to work its way though Eyman’s established network. But his campaign shelled out at least $200,000 to a sig-snagging firm, and business groups who like the idea bypassed Eyman’s campaign apparatus and gave another $285,000 directly to the company. So it, too, is a mixture of grass-roots activism and AstroTurf.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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