Guest opinion: Lawsuit splits political partners

A marriage of politically incongruous forces is in the throes of a nasty and potentially expensive public dissolution.

And a bunch of bystanders with vested interests could wind up paying for the break-up one way, or another.

Citizen Solutions, the firm responsible for gathering signatures for Initiative 1000, is suing One Washington Equality, the political committee behind that affirmative action measure. The company says it is still owed $1.2 million for its work.

This mess dates back pretty much to when they consummated their surprising union in 2018.

Citizen Solutions has profited mightily from the initiative forays of conservative anti-taxer Tim Eyman (and he’s apparently profited from them in return). Initiative 1000 is the antithesis of all they’ve ever worked on — a liberal policy aimed at erasing a law put on the books via a measure crafted by Eyman in 1998.

Jesse Wineberry, the political committee’s impresario, knew this but still went ahead and inked the deal with Roy Ruffino, one of the company’s owners. Both, it seemed, got what they wanted at the time.

Ruffino, eager to diversify from the legally challenged Eyman Inc., got a contract putting the firm on the same side as past and present rulers of the state’s political establishment.

Wineberry didn’t have the cash on hand and needed a company to work on spec and he got it.

Ruffino must have figured Wineberry could deliver. He did have the current governor, three former governors, tribes and some of the state’s largest labor organizations and businesses backing the initiative.

Except Wineberry didn’t deliver. Probably never could.

The hiring of Citizen Solutions effectively cut off financial support to the committee from a bunch of donors capable of writing large enough checks to pay for signature-gathering. Those at the helm of a host of organizations found the move inconceivable given the firm’s historic alliance with Eyman and current legal imbroglio with the Attorney General in which it’s accused of breaking campaign finance laws.

In July, the Washington State Civil Rights Coalition rebuked the Washington State Labor Council for not stepping up with greater financial support for the Wineberry-led committee.

Council leaders responded by denouncing the decision to work with Citizen Solutions as “irresponsible and contrary to the values we hold as a labor movement.”

“While the labor movement broadly supported the extremely important goal of expanding opportunity for Washingtonians of color housed in the text of I-1000, we cannot fund that work if those resources ultimately go toward those who have demonstrated year after year a commitment to attacking Washington’s working families,” wrote Larry Brown and April Sims, the president and secretary-treasurer respectively.

Now the council, and its allies, are in a pinch.

They’ve formed a new coalition, Washington Fairness. The aim is to preserve Initiative 1000 by passing Referendum 88 on the ballot in November.

But the lawsuit is casting a shadow on their efforts and they want it to go away.

Its existence seems to be deterring donors as the committee had raised a pedestrian $62,000 as of last week. And its presence continues to generate conversations which the coalition can’t avoid and which may wind up sowing confusion among voters.

One recourse is for coalition members to try to settle accounts with subcontractors directly and not Citizen Solutions at all. This would ensure workers are paid — which is what supporters of Initiative 1000 and Referendum 88 insist must occur — without enriching the firm.

It could clear the air but at a substantial financial cost.

Whether that’s a legitimate path isn’t certain.

What it is for sure is that this political marriage is falling apart at a really bad political time.

Contact The Herald (Everett) columnist Jerry Cornfield at 360-352-8623, jcornfield@herald net.com or on Twitter, @dospueblos.

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