Tim Eyman’s decadeslong career as an anti-tax activist with outsize influence on Washington state politics rests in the hands of a Thurston County judge.
Eyman’s long-running trial for campaign-finance violations concluded Thursday, with Eyman’s attorney accusing the state of trying to “eliminate Mr. Eyman as an advocate for less taxes, smaller government and a free society.”
The state has accused Eyman of a decadeslong run of money laundering, soliciting kickbacks and violating campaign finance law in a scheme to enrich himself through political donations to his initiative campaigns.
Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon said Thursday he hoped to have a ruling within two weeks. “I won’t promise it,” said Dixon, who will render the verdict in lieu of a jury, “but that’s my goal.”
Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who brought the lawsuit against Eyman more than three years ago for alleged violations that happened more than eight years ago, is seeking $7.8 million in penalties and also to permanently bar Eyman from “managing, controlling, negotiating, or directing financial transactions” for any kind of political committee.
Eric Newman, chief litigation counsel for the state attorney general’s antitrust division, called the case unprecedented in the breadth and scale of violations of the state Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA) that Eyman stands accused of.
“I am sure there is no case like this, I am sure there has never been a case with this length and this meticulous conniving and conspiracy to get around the FCPA,” Newman said Thursday. “Nobody has ever violated this statute for this long in this many ways.”
Eyman’s attorney, former state Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders, disputed not only the allegations but the proposed punishment, which he said would leave Eyman “no room to breathe, to participate in a free, democratic society.”
“I guess he can’t negotiate a printing contract, or a signature gathering contract, or change phone numbers or do anything; he’s in a straitjacket. You cannot participate in a free society with those kind of restrictions,” Sanders said in his closing argument Thursday. “It will put him in virtual jail, with this court as the jailer, with unending court hearings in the future to supervise every aspect of Mr. Eyman’s life.”
He said the penalties the state is asking for are “grossly disproportionate to those in similar cases.”
The trial, which started in November and has been repeatedly delayed, concluded on Zoom and neither Eyman nor Sanders were physically in the courtroom. Eyman was previously held in contempt of court for more than two years, and fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for failing to cooperate with discovery requirements. He has since cooperated and is no longer in contempt. Eyman previously filed for bankruptcy and for divorce, blaming the case for both his financial and marital woes.
Sanders has argued that Eyman was not the treasurer for any of his campaigns and, thus, had no duty to report any political contributions. He also maintained that Eyman’s longtime treasurer, Stan Long, who died in 2014, properly reported all political contributions.
Any unreported gifts that Eyman received over the years, Sanders argued, were personal, not political, and, thus not subject to campaign-reporting requirements.
“The people have a right to give Mr. Eyman anything they want and unless it is an electoral contribution it need not be reported by anyone, not even a campaign committee,” he said.
Newman was incredulous. The people, he said, passed the FCPA in 1972, and the Legislature and the state Public Disclosure Commission have since built upon it a huge amount of campaign-finance laws and regulations.
“In all that time nobody noticed a huge, huge glaring loophole?” Newman asked. “That is, you can do whatever you want as long as you’re not the treasurer. That this argument, the whole statute, none of it applies if you’re not the treasurer.”
“Of course that’s not the law,” Newman said. “Treasurers are bookkeepers. They just do the paperwork, they were not responsible for the truth of what’s in them.”
Eyman has long accused Ferguson of maintaining a vendetta against him — he calls him “fascist Fergie” in fundraising emails. On Thursday, Sanders accused Ferguson of “suborning perjury.” He said Ferguson’s office spent months during the trial’s discovery process asking for information on Eyman’s donors when, Sanders said, an attorney general’s investigator had the information.
Sanders cited landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases that limit campaign-finance laws to argue that issue advocacy is constitutionally protected speech and cannot be regulated.
“The right to anonymously associate and pool money is constitutionally protected,” he said.
But Newman, in his rebuttal, argued that Sanders barely mentioned any of the dozens of exhibits and documents the state presented to prove its case, including emails in which Eyman solicited “kickbacks” from a signature-gathering firm.
“He didn’t deny that he literally wrote down his conspiracies over and over again,” Newman said. “Instead, his argument is, even if he did all that stuff, it’s not illegal, that there’s nothing the state can do about that.”