'I, Uh, I Have No Comment' - A union plays dirty in opposing an antitax initiative

JOHN FUND'S POLITICAL DIARY - Reprinted below is John Fund's column from the Wall Street Journal

Posted 4/15/02

Citizen lawmaking has long been unpopular with the political class.
That's why many state legislatures have made it difficult to get
initiatives on the ballot.  But unions in Washington state are going
beyond even these crass tactics.  The state labor council tried to
cripple an antitax initiative by encouraging its members to masquerade
as interested volunteers and request stacks of blank petitions,
clipboards and signs, all in an effort to drain much-needed resources
from initiative supporters in the hopes of preventing the collection of
enough signatures to get on the ballot.

The sabotage directed against Initiative 776, which would roll back the
car-licensing tax, began with an e-mail to some 100 union leaders from
Diane McDaniel, political director of the Washington State Labor
Council.  "Your assistance is needed to help slow down & stop the
collection of signatures for I-776, the Tim (Lieman) Eyman creation that
would further weaken our state's transportation funding," the e-mail

It then asked the union leaders to "request that a Patriot Packet
(campaign kit) be mailed to you" and that they "forward this request to
family members, co-workers, etc. and ask them to do the same."

Ms. McDaniel wasn't shy in explaining her motives.  She said that
because the I-776 sponsors lacked the financial means to hire a paid
signature-gathering firm that mailing "hundreds (and perhaps thousands)
of packets out" will "cost them valuable campaign resources" and "help
use up their supply of petitions."  She helpfully added: "Don't use your
union's mailing address.  Too many requests to send to union halls will
tip our hand."  Her closing included another appeal to "help us slow
down and kill I-776."

A dissident union member alerted initiative supporters of the plan.
About 30 suspicious requests for packets came in after Ms. McDaniel's
e-mail--including some from union e-mail addresses--before I-776 backers
blew the whistle.

Chuck Jewell, a member of the Snohomish County Labor Council, was
tongue-tied when asked why he requested a Patriot Packet and forwarded
the McDaniel e-mail to nine friends. "I just wanted to see the package
and see what it was," he told the Spokane Spokesman Review.  "And I, uh,
I have no comment."

Ms. McDaniel did have a comment for the media.  She was unapologetic and
argued her e-mail was a legitimate political tactic against a group of
"antitax zealots" whose measures are leading to the closure of libraries
and parks--a dubious contention at best.  "The unions that comprise the
Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO have asked us to oppose I-776,
the latest threat to our state and local governments," she declared in a
statement.  "The e-mail I sent out was part of that effort.  Nothing in
that e-mail violates any campaign laws or regulations."

State officials aren't sure what to make of the labor council's brazen
tactics. "It may be improper, but not illegal," claims John Pearson, an
official at the secretary of state's office.  While it's against the law
to interfere with a person who collects signatures for an initiative,
it's not clear if the council's e-mail crosses any legal lines, says
Assistant Attorney General Jeff Even.  "Obviously, it smacks of dirty

Lawyers, who aren't involved in the case, told me a civil or criminal
case could be made against the council for soliciting "theft by
deception."  Certainly the unions could use a stern warning from law
enforcement.  This isn't the first time their ferocious opposition to
antitax initiatives has led them into dubious legal territory.  Last
year, unions wanted to derail I-747, a property tax limitation
initiative that ultimately won 57% approval by voters.  Chris Dugovich,
the president of the Washington State Council of County and City
Employees, initialed a secret memo opposing I-747 that instructed union
activists to "try to stop or at least slow down their ability to gain
signatures."  The memo also asked union officials to collect the names
of I-747 signature gatherers.

A union official I spoke with privately acknowledged that both last
year's e-mail and the latest one were "unfortunate" but said publicity
about them was designed to distract attention from the "ethical clouds"
swirling over Tim Eyman, a leader of Permanent Offense, the group
sponsoring I-776.  Indeed, last Friday the staff of the state's Public
Disclosure Commission issued a critical report on Mr. Eyman's management
of Permanent Offense.  It concluded that he had violated campaign
regulations by concealing a salary he paid himself from funds raised for
the initiative and paying expenses for his private business from his
campaign funds.  If found to be in violation, Mr. Eyman faces a fine of
up to $2,500 (error -- max is $150,000).  His attorney, Bill Glueck,
argues nothing improper was done and any compensation to Mr. Eyman was
"for his time, effectiveness and hard work."

One consequence of detailed campaign-finance laws seems to be that
allegations of irregularities by conservative groups are often
vigorously pursued, fueled by watchful media that routinely support such
laws. But vigorous enforcement isn't always the case with accusations
against liberal or union groups, as my colleague William McGurn has
pointed out in a series of articles on the National Education
Association's questionable coordination of its political activities with
Democratic campaigns.  Efforts to microregulate campaign
activities--such as the recently enacted McCain-Feingold law--carry with
them a danger that they will protect incumbents who can afford to hire
armies of lawyers and accountants, lead to less robust political debate
and discourage citizen participation in efforts like citizen initiative

That said, any campaign laws on the books must be enforced without
favoritism.  If Mr. Eyman deserves close scrutiny for his leadership of
the I-776 campaign, surely efforts to bankrupt it and keep I-776 off the
ballot merit a full investigation -- especially given a previous effort
to block an initiative last year was ignored by law enforcement.  One
reason the initiative process remains popular with voters is that it's a
final trump card against entrenched incumbents who often feel free to
ignore voters.  Stealth efforts to block initiatives from even reaching
the voters through sabotage can be just as much a denial of democracy as
improperly disqualifying a candidate or stealing votes.

        -- END --

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