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Bellevue billionaire buys himself an Eyman initiative

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Aug. 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
August 5, 2011 2:34 pm

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Whatever voters think about Initiative 1125’s attack on highway and bridge tolls, they should know this: The measure might not exist but for the bankroll of a Bellevue developer who hopes to kill a voter-approved transit plan.

Kemper Freeman Jr., the force behind Bellevue Square and much of the rest of downtown Bellevue, has given more than $1 million to the campaign run by professional opportunist Tim Eyman.

A full 86 percent of the contributions to Eyman’s I-1125 coffers came from Freeman’s company, Kemper Holdings. Without that money, Eyman might not have been able to hire the paid signature gatherers who qualified the measure for the November ballot.

I-1125 is not alone. All three of the so-called “citizen” initiatives voters will decide this fall are anything but grass roots. The Service Employees International Union bought a spot on the ballot for Initiative 1163, a measure that would re-enact standards for unionized home care workers after lawmakers didn’t cough up the cash to fund it. And Costco underwrote Initiative 1183, which would allow large supermarkets and warehouse outlets to sell hard liquor.

The difference between Eyman’s anti-tolls scheme and the others, though, is transparency of motive. The self-interest that prompted SEIU and Costco to give big to their initiatives is clearly evident. Not so with Kemper Freeman and I-1125.

Freeman isn’t so much a foe of tolls as he is the sworn enemy of light rail. And Eyman – who once strayed from his anti-tax shtick to hijack an anti-gay-rights referendum in pursuit of a payday – knows how to play to potential donors.

The initiative is primarily concerned with outlawing variable tolling – otherwise known as congestion pricing – and banning the state from tolling one route to help pay for upgrades on another.

But buried in I-1125 is also this language: “State government, the department of transportation, and other agencies may not transfer or use gas-tax-funded or toll-funded lanes on state highways for non-highway purposes.”

It sounds innocuous enough. The state constitution already prohibits gas taxes from being used for anything but roads and highways.

But that small, seemingly harmless provision could prevent Sound Transit from honoring its voter-approved promise to extend light rail across Lake Washington to Bellevue and Redmond.

Freeman has fought the East Link light rail line hard. He’s sued Sound Transit, he’s backed anti-light rail candidates for the Bellevue City Council, he’s even quit the Bellevue business association his father founded over its pro-light rail stance.

The anti-light rail provision might not have come to light as quickly as it did if a blogger hadn’t become suspicious after hearing of Freeman’s big contribution.
I-1125 is a perfect example of why election finance disclosure is so important. It lets the public know when an individual or company is buying an election. It also alerts voters to take a closer look at what that generous benefactor might stand to gain.

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