Internal documents reveal that a Washington State Assistant Attorney General knowingly and improperly re-wrote a ballot title to mollify a “friendly” initiative sponsor with political connections, in violation of a ruling by a judge, while also ignoring a request for fair treatment from Asian Americans.
Facts of the case to date:
I-1000 sponsors from last year filed two identical initiatives this year: I-1200 and I-1234.
Initially, the Washington State AGO issued a decent ballot title for I-1200 on September 2nd. They properly alerted voters that I-1200 would: “Remove a prohibition on preferential treatment by government”.
The initiatives’ sponsor, Jesse Wineberry, saw the ballot title for I-1200, and called Deputy Solicitor General, Alan Copsey on the morning of September 3rd. According to a public records act disclosure that was obtained by our group, Mr. Wineberry told Mr. Copsey that with the new AGO I-1200 ballot title, they “could not run the measure”.
In an internal email, Mr. Copsey specifically mentioned that Mr. Wineberry was a former State Representative, and he clearly was concerned that “it reaches a higher level in the office”.
Less than 6 hours, Mr. Copsey worked with Mr. Wineberry, through “a whole lot of back and forth”, and reversed the course expressed in the original ballot language, and issued a completely different ballot title for I-1234. In Mr. Copsey’s own words that the sponsors “would be comfortable with”.
The new and reissued I-1234 ballot title completed removed the language that I-1234 would “remove a prohibition on preferential treatment by government”.
Deputy Solicitor General, Peter Gonick raised his objection and said, “I think our version was better, and I am not fond of revising ballot titles to mollify sponsors, unless of course we think it makes the ballot title better (or at least no worse). For the reason we’ve previously discussed, I prefer mentioning the removal of preferential treatment.”
Notwithstanding that opposition from within the Attorney Generals own office, they went with the improperly influenced version that Mr. Copsey and Mr. Wineberry agreed upon.
American Coalition for Equality challenged the I-1234 ballot title, and a Judge ruled that I-1234 would “remove a statutory prohibition on preferential treatment by state and local government”. One would think that with this history, and much more importantly, the Judge’s ruling, the AGO would adopt the Judge’s ruling for similar initiatives. Knowingly abandoning a standing legal precedent and going so far as documenting improper influence from political connections, in writing, is deeply troublesome.
The I-1234 sponsors could not run the measure with the Judge’s ruling, so they decided to file more initiatives. Mr. Copsey was tasked with issuing ballot titles for those initiatives. After watching several ballot titles issued by Mr. Copsey that intentionally misled voters and hid the fact those initiatives would limit or remove preferential treatment, we contacted Solicitor General Noah Purcell. We were demanding Mr. Copsey to be removed from issuing ballot titles for any initiatives related to I-1234. We even sent a follow up email to Mr. Purcell. Our emails continue to go unanswered.
Not only has Mr. Copsey not been removed from issuing misleading ballot titles related to I-1234, but he also was able to improperly rush the ballot title process. The AGO standard process is 6 days to allow peer review. Mr. Copsey cut the process short by two days in an attempt to hide what he is doing from public scrutiny and proper review.
Solicitor General Noah Purcell was sent Mr. Copsey’s email about his discussion with Mr. Wineberry. The AGO was quick to address Mr. Wineberry’s request, yet when our group tried to request fair treatment, the AGO ignored Asian Americans in Washington State, as they have in the past.
From a public policy point of view, last year, by rejecting R-88, Washington voters clearly reaffirmed our state’s ban on preferential treatment that has been in place since 1998. Just last week, voters in California rejected Prop. 16 by a 56-to-44 percentage landslide, — despite the reject side being outspent by nearly13-to-1 — and reaffirmed California’s ban on preferential treatment that has been in place since 1996.
It is crystal clear what the voters want. Our AGO is supposed to support those voters and their wishes. I-1000 sponsors know that if informed, voters will reject any attempt to bring back racial preferences and official discrimination here in Washington State. The only way to get voters to pass an initiative that would re-introduce preferential treatment and discrimination based on race is to mislead voters via an improperly written ballot title.
A ballot title is a center piece of the initiative process. The taxpayer funded AGO should remain neutral and unbiased when issuing ballot titles. Clearly, the AGO should always follow legal precedent and the past lawful determinations of judges. Improper political influence in this process by special interests and friends is completely improper. The cooperation in this case with I-1234 sponsors is a gross betrayal of public trust and shakes the foundation of our initiative process. There needs to be a full public investigation of this matter by the media and an outside agency to determine if any laws, ethics, procedures or operating standards were broken in this process.
PRA records available upon requests.