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Originally published Saturday, September 8, 2012 at 7:13 PM

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Eyman initiative on initiatives has state suspicious

State officials are investigating whether I-517 supporters illegally relied on contributions intended for I-1185, the popular Tim Eyman initiative to forbid lawmakers to boost taxes without a two-thirds majority vote.

Tacoma News Tribune

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Even as Tim Eyman asks voters to renew one of his most popular initiatives this fall, a different, little-known Eyman proposal has come surprisingly far — and may make next year's ballot.

But the details of how it flew under the radar, piggybacking on other ballot measures, have brought it under state authorities' microscope.

Initiative 517 would make changes to the initiative process itself, giving campaigns an extra six months to gather voter signatures required to reach the ballot.

But first the proposal has to collect its own signatures, about 320,000 by December.

Through July alone, the campaign picked up 144,000 signatures, Eyman told the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) on Tuesday while trying to explain how there could be such a flurry of activity in a campaign Eyman says he hasn't raised or spent any money on.

The initiative activist provided The News Tribune with copies of recent emails to the PDC from the I-517 campaign.

The messages disclose previously unreported spending — not by Eyman, he says, but by like-minded volunteers.

A Virginia-based group has provided about half of the $124,000 total that will be listed in reports filed this past week.

The PDC is investigating whether I-517 supporters illegally used part of the money intended for I-1185, the Eyman initiative that requires lawmakers to have a two-thirds majority to create or raise taxes.

That's what's alleged by critics such as Rick Walther. The Auburn signature gatherer says he was fired for refusing to reduce payments to his subcontractors for I-1185 signatures unless they also collected for I-517.

He said he and other gatherers were expected to take the money out of what already had been promised to them for I-1185, a business-backed measure.

"All this money's still coming from 1185," Walther said of the arrangements. "There's no new money for 517. They're just moving funds around."

The campaign denies using any money from I-1185 — instead, it says it's leaning on petitioners' interest in the topic to drive a volunteer effort.

If anyone hopes that is true, it's Washington's business lobby.

"It's hard for us to figure out who's paid for what," said Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business.

The group wants to make sure its nearly $500,000 in contributions were spent on I-1185, as intended — especially because some retail businesses worry about I-517.

The measure might limit their ability to control where petitions are pushed on customers, Brunell said.

The measure aims to protect signature gatherers' rights and would make it a misdemeanor crime to interfere with a petitioner. It would also guarantee the right to public votes on local matters such as red-light cameras. But above all, it would provide more time for state measures.

Eyman declined to comment, saying his messages to the PDC speak for themselves. But he also distanced himself from the operations of the campaign, which is run by one of his longtime associates.

Directing the I-517 effort is Edward Agazarm, nicknamed "Eddie Spaghetti," a fixture of Washington's voter-petition industry.

His emails don't exactly make it sound like a volunteer effort.

"If you don't bring in equal numbers you are fired," Agazarm wrote to another signature-gathering contractor, in what critics say is an order to collect a voter signature on I-517 for every signature petitioners were paid to collect on I-1185.

"Every petitioner in the state should get free SIGNATURES ON IT or else they should be fired, then stoned to death in a public square," he said in another email.

In an email sent to the PDC, Agazarm has denied that money raised for other initiatives was used for I-517.

Eyman, citing Agazarm, told the PDC that more than half of the 144,000 signatures collected through late July came from people who were paid by volunteering contractors. The rest were themselves volunteers.

Eman has run into trouble with state regulators in the past, eventually settling a state lawsuit over diversions of campaign contributions to his own pocket.

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