As Initiative 1634 painfully illustrates, corporate money has utterly corrupted Washington’s “citizen” initiative process. In 1911, “the people reserve(d) to themselves the power to propose bills and laws, and to enact or reject the same at the polls, independent of the legislature. …” In 2018, it is clear that a tool intended to extend the people’s power has become a tool to extend the power of corporations.
I-1634 was spun as protecting us from a sales tax on food. In reality, the initiative protects big soda manufacturers from local taxes on these non-nutritious beverages – which are no more “food” than beer or wine. (Actually, pop is less nutritious than beer and wine.)
This year’s initiative contrasts sharply with 1977’s grassroots Initiative 345. In a desperate move to balance the 1976 state budget, the legislature extended the sales tax to food. In passing Initiative 345, the people established that food – vital to all, regardless of income – was not an appropriate source for taxes.
I helped gather signatures for 1977’s I-345. Led by the State Grange, there were zero paid signature gatherers. Initiative expenditures totaled $20,865. In contrast, national corporations spent $22,114,514 on I-1634. The election results were virtually identical: I-345 passed 54 percent to 46 percent; I-1634 passed 55 percent to 44 percent.
Unless we can control this corporate spending, it may be time to put down our old initiative horse. Unfortunately, she is often carrying more water for the powerful than for the people. Banning paid signature gatherers would be a start.