WA lawmakers move ballot initiative reform forward

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Associated Press

Posted on January 31, 2012 at 12:03 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 31 at 12:05 AM

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington state lawmakers forged ahead Monday with a bill to require ballot initiative campaigns to identify their top five donors in their advertisements.

The bill passed out of a House committee on a party-line vote, with seven Democrats in favor and four Republicans opposed.

Supporters of the legislation note that corporate spending on ballot initiatives has increased dramatically in recent years. They point to the $22 million that Costco Wholesale Corp. spent on last November's successful initiative campaign to replace state-run liquor stores with large-scale privately owned ones. And they say the measure would make clear for voters where the money backing voter initiatives is coming from.

"It's a question of fair elections," said Steve Zemke of the King County Democrats. "It's hard to have fair elections when you don't know who's making the argument."

Opponents countered that voters are savvy enough to know who is backing an initiative. They called the proposed new rules unnecessary.

"Voters are discerning," said Tim Eyman, who has championed tax-cutting and government-shrinking initiatives for over a decade. "They approve the ideas they agree with, and they reject the ideas they disagree with."

The bill would apply to advertisements that cost $1,000 or more.

A separate bill limiting ballot initiative campaign contributions to $1,600 was at odds with established federal court precedent and was not brought up for a committee vote.

"We're not going to tie the courts up with that," said Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, who chairs the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee.

Both bills were introduced by Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane.

"The best voter is an informed voter," Billig said.

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