Can money buy more wealth?
Brian Heywood is a fifty-something year old man with means and motivation. He graduated from Harvard in East Asian Studies in 1991. Before “graduation he spent three years living in Japan as a missionary and as a student. He joined and later served on the board of JD Power and Associates, a data analytics, software, and consumer intelligence company, with offices in California. In 2010 Mr. Heywood moved to Redmond, Washington, where he works as a hedge fund manager, now serving as the CEO of Taiyo Pacific Partners LP. His current level of involvement at Taiyo is slightly uncertain. His employment is variously self-described in Washington State Public Disclosure Commission reports as a horse boarder, artist, and as retired.
Speaking at a gathering at the Reset Church in Marysville in 2021 (why is it always a Fundamentalist, non-denominational church?) he said, “I came from ‘the people’s republic of California’. I am an economic refugee. I came here to make money and to be free.”
Clearly, Mr. Heywood knows his way around using money to make money. Now he wishes to use that money and his expertise to change the politics of the State of Washington to suit his own pecuniary and political interests. His donation to the Loren Culp campaign for governor of Washington in 2020 (see page 12) offers a window on his political leanings. In the Facebook videoof his Reset Church talk in 2021 he says, “I and some of my friends have begun to fund” various efforts, including the Washington chapter of the right wing news outlet, The Center Square. He “will be starting” Unleash.com. In his speech, Mr. Heywood likens building back the Republican Party in Washington State to the many years of planning and groundwork in re-building a corporation.
Apparently unfettered by monetary constraints, Mr. Heywood has almost singlehandedly funded “Let’s Go Washington (Sponsored by Brian Heywood) – 2023”, a Washington State Political Committee backing six Initiatives to the Legislature. Mr. Heywood is in for donations and loans adding up to nearly $6 million. What is he pushing?
Danny Westneat, columnist for the Seattle Times, provides a rundown:
No income tax, says one. Repeal the new capital gains tax, says another. Make the new long-term care tax optional, says a third. (Like I said, he really doesn’t like taxes.) Repeal the climate change law that’s adding to gas prices, says a fourth.
The one culture war one calls for a “parents’ bill of rights” in public schools, so parents could demand copies of the curriculum and opt their kids out of lessons they don’t like. Bleh. If you want to know what’s going on in your kids’ schools, just get involved. Or ask your kids.
Statewide ballot measures, which include Initiatives to the People, Initiatives to the Legislature, and Referenda, were enshrined in the Article II, Section 1, of the Washington State Constitution during the Progressive Era in 1912 after more than a decade of effort. Initiatives are “the first power reserved by the people”, but that does not mean that getting an initiative to the ballot is easy, to say nothing about the effort necessary to pass the measure. The steps are detailed here. The process starts with a sponsor filing a copy of the proposed wording of the initiative with the Washington State Secretary of State. After several additional steps, the final wording of the ballot title and summary are formulated by the Washington State Attorney General. Only then can the sponsor(s) begin the process of gathering the required number of signatures.
We’re accustomed to the idea that “the people” come up with an important issue to put on the ballot as an initiative or referendum and that the people, that is, volunteers, work to gather the necessary signatures in support. Indeed, it appears that Referendum 20, legalizing abortion in Washington State in 1970, was such a grassroots effort. Referendum 90, opposing a law that mandates sex education in public schools that failed in 2020, is another example. The biggest single contributions to the Referendum 90 campaign were $25,000 and it appears that no money was spent paying signature gatherers.
But at least in more recent years it seems that our ballot measure system is often hijacked by narrow monied interests intent on stirring up a particular part of the electorate for electoral advantage. Tim Eyman’s endless, irritating anti-tax initiatives and the current batch of Heywood initiatives are perfect examples. The use of paid signature gatherers instead of being able to rely on volunteers is a solid indicator of this type manipulative ballot measure. Brian Heywood’s Let’s Go Washington is a particularly glaring example. Tallied to the end of October his Let’s Go Washington reported spending $5.4 million on paid signature gatherers of the total $6.5 million spent by the Committee.
Tellingly, every one of Heywood’s initiatives, I-2081, I-2109, I-2111, I-2113, I-2117, and I-2124, was initially filed with the Secretary of State by Jim Walsh in March and April of this year. (Similar ones were filed by Walsh in 2022 but did not receive official initiative numbers.) Jim Walsh is the incumbent Republican Washington State Representative from Legislative District 19 (Aberdeen) and the current Chairman of the Washington State Republican Party. As part of a series on far-right mainstreaming among Republicans nationally, the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights reports that Mr. Walsh, “wins the award for the most memberships in far-right Facebook groups”.
Signing the petition for any of these initiatives would be to support far right Republican electoral strategy—and to support the efforts of one very wealthy Mr. Heywood to become even more wealthy. (You need not memorize the numbers of these ballot initiatives. They are the only Washington state-wide ballot measures looking for signatures before the end of December deadline. Just decline to sign any offered.)
If you are approached by a signature gatherer for a statewide initiative consider reporting the encounter on this recorded hotline: (425) 553-2157. The best outcome would be all six of these initiatives fall short of the signature gathering requirements in spite of Mr. Heywood’s multi-million dollar effort.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. Danny Westneat’s September 23 article, “Dumb money? A Redmond man bets $5 million on resurrecting the state GOP” in the Seattle Times covers the same story with the slightly different slant of a progressive who lives west of the Cascades. If you have the time and can wend your way around the Times’ paywall, I recommend clicking and reading it. The article provided a number of useful leads.
P.P.S. In the course of this research I visited the Washington State Secretary of State’s website, the place where ballot measures are first filed and where the final wording of the ballot title and summary as formulated by the Washington State Attorney General appears. A visit to the Secretary of State’s site is instructive. Click here. First, notice that many ballot measures are filed while very few ever make it to the ballot. Second, many are filed by the same individuals, people like Jim Walsh, and, yes, despite his chapter 7 bankruptcy, still by Tim Eyman. (It only costs $50 to file a ballot initiative.) It seems that this is an example of throwing many things at the wall to see what sticks. If the ballot title and summary come back from the Attorney General written in a way that looks like it might be salable to voters these industrial ballot measure gadflies might convene focus groups and run surveys. If those yield positive results the next step is to test the waters for financial support. Then and only then does one build a signature gathering campaign with any hope of making it to the ballot. Of course, in the case of the initiatives under discussion here, Jim Walsh provided the filings after Brian Heywood was already on board with lots of money and a strategy. (Heywood filed “Let’s Go Washington” with the Public Disclosure Commission on April 14, 2022, nearly a year before Walsh officially filed the 2023 ballot measures that Heywood was gearing up to support.)
The final message here is that many or most ballot measures these days are brought up, funded, and make it to the ballot as part of a greater strategy by a special interest. Who is funding the measure and whether the signatures are gathered by volunteers or paid signature-collects are strong hints. A true citizens’ ballot measure like the 1970 Referendum 20 (abortion) requires planning, money, an enormous investment, conviction, and commitment of time and effort on the part of many people. Finally, with a citizen’s ballot measure, one had better have a very, very strong belief that when the election finally arrives the majority of the electorate will vote YES.