Monday, April 12, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Eyman blasts phone warning from public-employee groups

Full text of message

The text of the message left in the homes of Pierce County voters last week, warning that initiative signature gatherers might pose an identity-theft risk:

"Hello, this is Bill Hanson with the Washington State Council of Police and Sheriffs calling with an important message. You may soon be approached by anonymous signature gatherers asking you to sign their petitions.

"Law enforcement has learned that in the past many individuals who are paid as signature gatherers have been convicted of forgery and other crimes. Please protect yourself from identity theft. Please think before you ink. Thank you."

The Associated Press

TACOMA — An official-sounding phone message left in some Pierce County homes last week warned that identity thieves may be posing as paid initiative-signature gatherers.

Officials with two organizations — the Washington State Council of Police and Sheriffs, and the Washington State Council of County and City Employees — say the messages weren't meant to deceive people or deter them from signing initiatives.

But they also acknowledged that the two-day campaign partially targeted Tim Eyman, who's pushing two property-tax-cutting initiatives for the November ballot.

"We are going to lose officers and deputies because of this," said Bill Hanson, executive director of the police and sheriffs council, a group that lobbies for rank-and-file cops.

The message warns people that police have learned that "in the past many individuals who are paid as signature gatherers have been convicted of forgery and other crimes."

It was Hanson's voice that was on the message, and he insists there was nothing inappropriate about it.

"We don't particularly care for Eyman," he said. "But we wouldn't go so far as to tell people not to sign petitions."

Eyman's proposals separately target the state and local portions of the property tax. The local measure would cut the tax by 25 percent.

The phone campaign was the brainchild of the county and city employees council, a union representing more than 14,000 public employees.

Chris Dugovich, the union's president and executive director, said his group spent about $12,000 on the effort, which targeted Pierce County. He said about one-third of the petition signatures gathered for Initiative 747, which capped property-tax increases two years ago, came from Pierce County.

Eyman said he didn't know about the phone campaign until The News Tribune of Tacoma told him about it.

"This is absolutely appalling," he said. "Rich irony here is that they are now using law enforcement in breaking the law, preventing people from exercising their rights to political process.

"These people would actually do anything. It's a pretty frightening thing. And they are trying to hide it from the public this time."

R. August Pommerening of Tacoma was one who received the message and said he felt misled.

Pat Thompson, deputy director of the public employees union, said some initiative campaigns pay $1 to $3 per name for signature gatherers.

"I think we need to make people understand that their signatures now are a commodity," he said.

Asked why the union approached the police and sheriffs council to take part, Thompson said, "It's a law-enforcement issue."

Thompson denied the phone campaign was pitted against any specific initiative efforts.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Sam Reed said Reed was not aware of the phone campaign.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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