Since 2004, retired Woodinville investment banker Michael Dunmire has given at least $2,747,193.71 to Tim Eyman and his various initiatives.
That’s nearly half a million dollars a year.
Over the past six years Dunmire’s impressive bank account has provided the bulk of the money used to buy the signatures necessary to get Eyman’s initiatives on the ballot, and the bulk of Eyman’s personal compensation. Without the largesse of this one man, none of Eyman’s recent initiatives would have qualified for the ballot.
Is that the citizens initiative process the populist framers of our state constitution imagined?
I don’t think so.
Talk of doing away with the initiative process is a nonstarter; even significant reforms would require a constitutional amendment, and nobody ever wins an election asking for less democracy. But I do have one idea that might return the initiative process closer to its populist roots, and just may be constitutional in the process: impose contribution limits on the signature gathering portion of the campaign.
The courts have been clear that the state cannot impose contribution limits on issues, as that would interfere with free speech, but as far as I know, separating the mechanics of collecting signatures from the messaging, while imposing contribution limits on the former but not the latter, has never been attempted.
Perhaps the courts would not allow this either; I don’t know, and perhaps folks with more expertise in this aspect of the law could chime in with their opinion. But at the very least such an effort at reform would create a much needed public discussion of whether our democracy is served by making the initiative process the private playground of wealthy individuals and powerful special interest groups.