The state of Washington on Monday began its court case against Tim Eyman, alleging that over the better part of a decade, the serial initiative filer and conservative activist solicited kickbacks, laundered political donations and flouted campaign finance law in an ongoing scheme to enrich himself and deceive his political donors and the public.
“Tim Eyman has continually and willfully violated the law for his own personal benefit,” Assistant Attorney General S. Todd Sipe said, in a 35-minute opening statement at the long-awaited civil trial. “The state seeks substantial monetary penalties.”
The state also seeks a penalty that could be much graver for Eyman, who for more than two decades has made a living pushing, with varying levels of success, anti-tax ballot initiatives much loathed by Washington’s prevailing liberal establishment.
The state, represented by Attorney General Bob Ferguson, wants an injunction “that will put an end to Mr. Eyman’s ability to profit from concealment and deception.” It wants to block Eyman from having any control over the finances of political committees.
“There is no reason to believe those violations will not continue without appropriate action taken by this court,” Sipe said.
Eyman’s lawyer, former Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders, in a 45-minute opening statement argued that Eyman disclosed everything required of him under the state’s campaign finance laws and that, even if he hadn’t, it wasn’t his responsibility.
Eyman was never the treasurer for any of his political committees, Sanders said, and it’s the treasurer’s responsibility to make financial disclosures. (Eyman has been barred from serving as the treasurer of political committees since a prior campaign finance ruling against him in 2003.)
The treasurer of Eyman’s committees, for almost all the years in question, Sanders said, was Stan Long, a lawyer, accountant and former IRS agent who died in a 2014 car crash.
“Tim looked up to Stan and trusted his judgment,” Sanders said. “That reporting was solely Mr. Long’s responsibility and absolutely not Mr. Eyman’s responsibility.”
Sanders portrayed Eyman as a citizen-activist whose life has fallen apart because of the lawsuit against him.
“Mr. Eyman is a man of modest means, he’s an enthusiastic proponent of the initiative process,” Sanders said. “As a result of this litigation, he’s lost his wife, he’s lost his home and he’s gone bankrupt.”
The trial in Thurston County Superior Court, which stems from a 2017 lawsuit Ferguson filed, is expected to last about four days. It is a bench trial, meaning Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon will render the verdict, rather than a jury.
At trial, Ferguson is making three broad charges.
First, that in 2012, as part of a kickback scheme, Eyman secretly received more than $308,000 that donors had contributed in support of an initiative to require a two-thirds legislative majority to raise taxes. He used that money, the state claims, for his own personal benefit, not for the political campaign.
Second, that Eyman secretly funneled $200,000 that donors had given for the two-thirds tax initiative to another, unrelated initiative campaign intended to make it easier to pass initiatives.
And third, that Eyman’s perpetual fundraising over much of the last decade, to the tune of nearly $800,000, should have been reported as political donations.
On the alleged kickback scheme, Ferguson’s office says that Eyman’s political committee overpaid the signature-gathering firm he frequently worked with, Citizen Solutions, and then Citizen Solutions paid $308,000 to Eyman’s company.
“His partners in this political committee, the people actually writing the checks and the public wouldn’t have any knowledge that money committed to this ballot initiative was in fact being laundered to Tim Eyman,” Sipe said.
Sanders argued that the campaign paid a fair rate for the work Citizen Solutions did and that, after the fact, Citizen Solutions hired Eyman and his company as a consultant.
“It was their money,” Sanders said of Citizen Solutions. “There was no duty for the campaign to report that, Stan Long decided not to report it.”
Sanders argued that Eyman did, as the state charges, solicit donations without reporting them. But, he said, those were personal donations, and not required to be reported to state campaign finance regulators.
“He did solicit his friends and supporters for personal contributions, saying he would use them to pay his personal expenses and only that, that’s exactly what he did,” Sanders said. “None of that money was used for any political campaign.”
But, in a partial judgment in February, Judge James Dixon already ruled that Eyman, who has been running initiative campaigns essentially nonstop since the late 1990s, is himself a “continuing political committee,” required to report donations.
That is, Dixon ruled, that when people give money to Eyman there is an “expectation” that he is “receiving funds toward electoral goals,” and that requires reporting those donations.
Sanders argued that Dixon issued that ruling when Eyman was representing himself without a lawyer and they hoped it would be overturned.
All the money he’d received either didn’t have to be reported, or reporting was the responsibility of someone else. “Mr. Eyman,” he said, “had no responsibility to report anything.”