In November 2005, Washington State voters restored the state auditor’s authority to conduct independent performance audits of state and local government. Lawmakers in the 1960s had removed that authority after a performance audit documented waste and abuse in the executive and legislative branches of state government.
In a state of almost six million people, one man was pivotal in the voters’ approval of the 2005 good-government initiative. Michael Dunmire, an investment fund manager, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money to promote Initiative 900, which dedicates 0.16 percent of the state’s sales tax revenue for the state auditor to conduct performance audits.
Last year Dunmire bankrolled Initiative 917, a measure to limit motor vehicle registration fees to $30 a year, which just missed qualifying for the ballot. Both I-900 and I-917 were sponsored by perennial initiative promoter Tim Eyman.
‘Doer, Not a Talker’
“Mike Dunmire is a friend and a mentor. He’s a doer, not a talker, who views his initiative donations as an extension of his other philanthropic projects,” said Eyman. “Taxpayers will benefit for decades from his instrumental support for I-900’s performance audits, which have become a national model. His commitment to providing voters with a greater voice in their government is truly inspirational.”
Dunmire said his support of performance audits “was a way for me to give back to the [citizens of the state] some of the success I have enjoyed.”
State Auditor Brian Sonntag is thrilled by the authority granted by I-900.
“Citizens expect openness and transparency from their government,” Sonntag said. “They deserve this level of accountability.”
Decade of Work
The passage of I-900 was the culmination of more than a decade of effort by the state auditor and other concerned citizens and groups advocating more transparent and efficient government.
When asked whether he still believes his high level of support for initiatives is a good investment in light of I-917’s fate, Dunmire said, “Giving up is not an option. I felt that $30 tabs were a commitment made by the governor and legislature. Reneging on the pledge ‘$30 tabs are here to stay’ is a breach of trust with the people.
“There are few things worse than a lack of trust between those being governed and those in political power,” Dunmire continued.
Dunmire noted the initiative process in Washington is under attack by several groups that would like to eliminate the direct voice of taxpayers.
‘People’s Only Voice’
“The initiative process is the people’s only voice in the state and important to protect,” Dunmire said. “Washington State is full of politicians conveying favors [rather than going about] the people’s business. Legislators spend an inordinate amount of energy to destroy the initiative process under the guise of making it better.”
Dunmire said the initiatives he has supported identify and address what he considers major problems for the state: “unfettered spending, lack of transparency, and lack of accountability.” He believes initiatives represent democracy at its best.
Supporting initiatives that benefit the citizens of Washington State is one of the ways Dunmire enjoys making a difference.
“Probably my biggest passion is being creative and solving issues using a unique approach to get better results, whether I manage a group of 10 employees or as many as 600,” Dunmire said. “This is much of the reason for my involvement in politics. There is no management in government. Results are not measured, goals and strategies are usually poorly done if at all, and accountability is nonexistent.”
Dunmire believes performance accountability in Washington will generate encouraging results if legislators take advantage of the opportunity that performance audits represent for improving the overall effectiveness and efficiency of government.
The initiative process, Dunmire believes, compels legislators to consider the people’s feedback and has resulted in legislation more in line with the citizenry’s desires. His financial support is a way of helping that feedback get heard.
“While my involvement may or may not directly impact [policy], it has helped me knowing I did not sit idly by complaining. I cannot control the response of legislators, but I will love Washington regardless,” Dunmire said.
Groups hoping to bring more accountability to state government laud Dunmire’s efforts.
“Thanks to the civic commitment of individuals like Mr. Dunmire, Washington State finally has meaningful performance audit authority for the state auditor,” said Jason Mercier, director of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation’s Economic Policy Center. “If more Washingtonians follow Dunmire’s lead, state officials will pay closer attention to the demands for an accountable and transparent government.”
Amber Gunn ([email protected]) is a policy analyst for the Evergreen Freedom Foundation’s Economic Policy Center.