Anti-tax group petitions trashed with union help
Tactic against Permanent Offense smacks of `dirty pool,' but probably not illegal, state officials say

Richard Roesler - Staff writer, Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA , WA - 4/4/02_ It was the "liars" versus the "parasites" Wednesday, as the anti-tax group Permanent Offense cried foul over a union-led effort to request -- and presumably discard -- stacks of the group's blank petitions, clipboards, stickers and signs.

Permanent Offense, whose leaders include Spokane tax activists Jack and Mike Fagan, filed complaints with the Secretary of State, Attorney General and the state Public Disclosure Commission.

"We've caught the unions red-handed," said the group's Monte Benham, a Tri-Cities retiree. "They want their people to request these packets and then throw the petitions away."

"They're fraudulently trying to deplete our resources, which is right next to stealing," Jack Fagan said.

Their official complaint to Secretary of State Sam Reed was considerably hotter: "To us, these parasites in the public-employee unions are unapologetic, anti-First Amendment criminals," the group wrote.

Unapologetic is right, said the Washington State Labor Council. The group's political director, Diane McDaniel, sent out an e-mail two weeks ago urging people to request the packets as a way of draining Permanent Offense's resources.

It's a legitimate political tactic, she argued, against an initiative that would strip more money from critical government services.

In a statement Wednesday, McDaniel called Permanent Offense a group of "anti-tax zealots" who have lied about the impact of their previous anti-tax initiatives. She said the group's previous measures are leading to park and library closures, crumbling roads, skyrocketing ferry fares and layoffs among working families.

"The unions that comprise the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO have asked us to oppose Initiative 776, the latest threat to our state and local governments from what's left of Tim Eyman's organization," McDaniel wrote. "The e-mail I sent out was part of that effort. Nothing in that e-mail violates any campaign laws or regulations."

She said she sent the e-mail to about 100 labor activists statewide. It was hardly a secret, she said -- she asked people to forward it to family members and co-workers.

"Your assistance is needed to help slow down and stop the collection of signatures for I-776, the Tim (Lieman) Eyman creation that would further weaken our state's transportation funding," her e-mail said.

She urged labor activists to request the group's "Patriot Packs," thick sheafs of documents that include 25 blank petitions.

"Don't use your union's mailing address," she wrote. "Too many requests to send to union halls will tip our hand."

Permanent Offense is racing a July 5 deadline to gather nearly 200,000 signatures to put their latest initiative on the ballot. Initiative 776 would hold down car licensing fees and cut some funding from a Puget Sound light-rail project.

"We can inflict some damage on their petition supply and their bank account if we all do our part," she wrote. "Please help us slow down and kill I-776."

Other than the statement, McDaniel did not respond to requests for an interview.

One of those who received the e-mail was Chuck Jewell, a member of the Snohomish County Labor Council. He forwarded it to nine acquaintances, and, according to Jack Fagan, requested one of the packets himself.

"I just wanted to see the package and see what it was," Jewell said in a brief phone interview Wednesday. "And I, uh, no. I have no comment."

A spokesman for the labor council, David Groves, questioned the timing of Permanent Offense's complaints. The group's longtime frontman, Mukilteo watch dealer Eyman, admitted this winter that he'd diverted more than $200,000 in campaign donations to his private bank account -- and spent $45,000 -- while repeatedly denying that he was making money off the organization.

A two-month investigation by the state Public Disclosure Commission could be released as early as today. Groves said he wonders if Wednesday's complaints were timed to distract from the PDC's findings.

Groves also said the labor council consulted an attorney, who advised that McDaniel's letter didn't violate any law.

State officials seem to agree.

"It may be improper, but not illegal," said John Pearson, deputy director of elections at the Secretary of State's Office. "It's not the kind of thing you like to see adults in the political process engaged in."

Assistant Attorney General Jeff Even said it's illegal to interfere with a person gathering signatures, but the labor council's efforts are much less clear-cut.

"Obviously, it smacks of dirty pool," Even said.

"I can't think of it as any sort of violation," said Doug Ellis, spokesman for the Public Disclosure Commission. "If someone calls and asks for it (a packet of petition forms), they don't have to give it to him."

Michael Buckley, an assistant professor of government at Eastern Washington University, said such tactics are likely to encourage public cynicism about politics -- and that the publicity could backfire against the labor council.

"While these actions are not necessarily illegal, it really blemishes the organizations," he said. "It absolutely could blow up in their face."

Permanent Offense clearly hopes to capitalize on the leaked e-mail, sending excerpts to thousands of the group's supporters -- and to reporters statewide. The group said in a statement late Wednesday that it was being "inundated" with phone calls and e-mails from furious supporters.

"When it comes to motivating our supporters, our enemies are the best friends we ever had," the group said.


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