After spending more than 18 months in contempt of court for refusing to disclose information about his finances and his business in the long-running campaign finance lawsuit against him, anti-tax activist Tim Eyman was hit Friday with further sanctions, as a Thurston County judge ruled he must disclose the source of nearly $800,000 in contributions he’s collected since 2012.
It’s the latest in a series of setbacks for Eyman, in an investigation now nearly five years old that alleges his two-decade career as a serial initiative filer has coincided with a scheme to launder political donations through a complex web of political committees, businesses and kickbacks to flout campaign-finance laws and enrich himself.
Eyman has twice been held in contempt of court for refusing to cooperate with court rules in Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit against him. He faces a potential lifetime ban on directing the finances of political committees. He also remains in contempt of court. He and his company, Watchdog for Taxpayers, are being charged $500 a day and have racked up more than $225,000 in fines.
Eyman, who has filed for bankruptcy and is representing himself in the case, calls Ferguson’s lawsuit a “political jihad against me and my family” and argued in court filings that he’s been “proactive, diligent and motivated” in his efforts to get out of contempt. Eyman said he’s spent $900,000 on his legal defense, and said only five of Ferguson’s 38 questions remain unanswered.
But Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon ruled Friday that the monetary sanctions are not enough, that Eyman has “willfully and deliberately” violated rules and court orders and has “failed to take reasonable steps” to fix the situation. Dixon found that Eyman’s actions “substantially and irreparably” harmed the attorney general’s office’s ability to prepare for trial.
So Dixon ordered that $766,447 that Eyman has collected since 2012, through perpetual fundraising and persistent solicitous emails, be classified not as “gifts,” as Eyman has insisted, but as political contributions and subject to disclosure.
Ferguson called it a significant finding and noted that state campaign-finance law requires that all political contributions be reported at the time they are made.
“Mr. Eyman has never reported these contributions,” Ferguson said in a prepared statement. “He ignored the law and shielded his contributors from public view. Translation — this means that Tim Eyman concealed more than $766,000 in campaign contributions and the state can and will seek additional penalties for every day he fails to report them.”
Ferguson, in court filings, argued that his office has been trying to discover the source of that money for more than two years, with no success. Eyman, Ferguson’s office wrote, “has not had a job in nearly 20 years” and his only support has been from political donations “or from kickbacks related to campaigns.”
“These contributions go to the very heart of the state’s case,” Ferguson’s office wrote. “Without the names of the donors, the state cannot ask them the purpose of the donations in order to refute Defendant Eyman’s bald assertions that they were all gifts.”
Ferguson’s case against Eyman, first filed in 2017 and stemming from a 2015 investigation by the state Public Disclosure Commission, alleges that for years, Eyman and the signature-gathering firm Citizen Solutions have hid the true cost of his initiative campaigns from donors in a scheme to enrich himself. Ferguson accuses Eyman of receiving kickbacks from Citizen Solutions. In one email, cited by the attorney general, Eyman wrote to an owner of Citizen Solutions that his goal was to have his political committee pay the signature-gathering firm “an extra $150,000 to provide to me.”
Eyman, Ferguson alleges, had Citizen Solutions write $13,000 checks to his wife and children because that was the maximum amount his accountant told him could be paid to a person without disclosing it to the Internal Revenue Service.
Eyman, who has an initiative on the November ballot to cut car tabs to a flat $30, declined to comment after the ruling Friday. But, despite the lifetime ban hanging over his head, he remains active. He sent three separate emails over the last three days to drum up support for his car-tabs initiative and to raise money, personally, to cover the costs of “litigation, bankruptcy and other crap from the AG’s attacks.”