Serial initiative-filer Tim Eyman has laundered political donations through out-of-state charities, pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations, refused to comply with campaign-finance laws and lied to his donors and to the public about it, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson alleges in recently filed court documents.
And Ferguson would like Eyman to stop.
Ferguson’s lawsuit against Eyman, first filed in 2017, seeks to bar the longtime anti-tax crusader from “managing, controlling, negotiating or directing financial transactions of any kind for any political committee in the future.”
Eyman says such a punishment would violate his First Amendment rights to free speech and political activity and essentially would bar him from the work that has made him a powerful force in Washington politics for more than 20 years.
On Friday, a Thurston County Superior Court judge will begin to settle the debate: Can the attorney general block Eyman from forever participating in the financial aspects of his political campaigns? Ferguson says such a punishment is “necessary to prevent further illegal conduct by Eyman.”
Eyman has filed for partial summary judgment in the lawsuit, seeking to eliminate the lifetime ban on directing the finances of political campaigns as a possible punishment.
“Tim Eyman has spent decades lying to campaign donors and the public about his misuse of campaign funds, and now he is lying to this Court about what the State seeks here,” Ferguson writes in a March court filing.
The new filing, while arguing that the ban on managing a campaign’s finances would be appropriate, also goes into much further detail of the accusations against Eyman than the original lawsuit, alleging a complex web of political committees, businesses, donations and kickbacks that Eyman used to flout campaign-finance laws and enrich himself.
The proposed ban, Ferguson says, is similar to something Eyman already agreed to in a 2002 campaign-finance case. At that time, Eyman agreed to a settlement that permanently barred him from acting as a treasurer or “as signer on any financial accounts” for any political committee.
“Now, after 17 years of ignoring that injunction and the law,” Ferguson writes, “Eyman argues that this Court lacks the authority to enjoin him from controlling financial transactions for the same types of organizations he has been bilking for decades.”
Eyman counters that the new proposed ban is stricter than the one he agreed to in 2002 and would keep him from doing ballot measures altogether. He calls it an “unconstitutional prior restraint” on any participation in initiative campaigns.
“The state’s proposed punishment,” Eyman writes, in a brief filed without a lawyer, “guarantees nothing illegal will occur because the only way to guarantee not running afoul of the State’s lifetime ban is by not being politically active at all. Such a ban deprives me of all rights protected under the First Amendment.”
The Institute for Free Speech, a national nonprofit that frequently opposes campaign-finance laws, wants to weigh in on Eyman’s behalf, calling the proposed punishment essentially unprecedented and “inherently dangerous.”
When Ferguson filed suit against Eyman, his case focused on the 2012 election, alleging that Eyman spent money donated for one initiative on another initiative campaign and personally profited from the campaigns to the tune of $308,000.
Profiting from a political campaign is not illegal, but state campaign-finance laws require that payments be disclosed.
The new filing fills in much more detail and adds further allegations about other campaigns.
It repeatedly describes money Eyman received in 2012 as a “kickback” from Citizen Solutions, the signature-gathering firm he frequently works with. It says that Eyman proposed a deal where he would receive one-third of all the revenue Citizen Solutions collected or that the company would pay him a $270,000 sales commission.
“When it comes to the extra $270k, I’m working hard to get it for myself by having it paid to Citizen Solutions,” Eyman wrote in an email cited by the attorney general.
It alleges that in another initiative campaign, in 2010, Eyman hid from his donors how much he was paying Citizen Solutions.
“We have agreed to have Citizen Solutions collect signatures for $2.00 each. I am doing my best to raise money from the business community at a rate of $2.50 per signature,” Eyman wrote in an email cited by the attorney general.
Eyman wrote that his goal was to have his political committee pay Citizen Solutions “an extra $150,000 to provide to me.”
In 2011, Ferguson alleges, Eyman’s accountant told him that a person could give Eyman up to $13,000 without disclosing those payments to the IRS.
In that year’s elections, Eyman’s political committee paid Citizen Solutions just over $1 million for signature collecting. After the election, Ferguson writes, Citizen Solutions’ two owners paid Eyman, his wife and his three young children a total of $86,000, though each individual payment was less than $13,000.
The filing alleges repeated instances of Eyman soliciting money for himself personally or for a company, group or committee and then intermingling the funds or using them for another purpose.
In 2014, for instance, Eyman received at least four checks made payable to his “2/3 Constitutional Amendment” initiative committee, Ferguson writes, but Eyman deposited those payments into his personal account.
Eyman’s company, Watchdog for Taxpayers, and Citizen Solutions have both been in contempt of court for more than a year for not handing over documents relevant to the lawsuit and are being fined $500 a day.
Eyman was deposed by the attorney general’s office in February. He pleaded his Fifth Amendment rights 80 separate times in the deposition.
‘Incredibly broad and hopelessly vague’
Eyman has represented himself in the case for the last several months. He filed for bankruptcy last year, and, because the state of Washington is his largest creditor, the state has the ability to object to his legal counsel.
Eyman claims that the state has bullied him out of having legal representation and that lawyers are now scared to represent him. The attorney general’s office says Eyman’s attorney voluntarily withdrew and he’s free to hire another one.
“The chilling effect the State has had on the legal community is a perfect metaphor for the chilling effect they will have on the citizenry if the lifetime ban it covets is not rejected by this Court,” Eyman writes in his brief.
He compares his situation to the movie “Minority Report” — while also proclaiming his love for other Tom Cruise classics, “Top Gun” and “Rain Man” — in which the police are able to arrest people before they commit a crime.
“The movie dramatically illustrated the loss of due process and the eagerness of the government to sacrifice it,” Eyman writes. “And frankly, that sounds eerily similar to the State’s arguments.”
Eyman argues that the attorney general’s proposed punishment is “incredibly broad and hopelessly vague” and would be impossible comply with.
“Buying groceries would need to be reported because the food I ate allowed me to continue to organize initiatives,” Eyman writes. “I have been organizing and promoting initiatives for 22 years and I fully intend to continue doing so for another 20-30 years.
“There are a lot of voters who support the ideas I promote,” he continues. “But even if no one did, I should still have the right to express those ideas in the political arena via citizen initiatives without being muzzled.”