OLYMPIA — Tim Eyman had called Friday morning’s court hearing “the Super Bowl.”
“I ask for your prayers this morning,” Eyman wrote ahead of the hearing.
The prayers went unanswered. Eyman lost.
Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon ruled Friday morning that Eyman could potentially be punished with a lifetime ban on managing or directing the finances of a political committee.
At issue was Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s long-running lawsuit against the anti-tax activist. Eyman had filed a motion to have the potential punishment thrown out, arguing that it would be an unconstitutional infringement on his First Amendment right to speech, and that even the possibility of such a ban was having a chilling effect on his ability to fund ballot initiatives.
As it became clear that Dixon, speaking from the bench, would rule against him, Eyman, sitting alone at the defendant’s table, without a lawyer, bowed his head and slowly, repeatedly, shook his head no.
Afterward, he called the ruling a “gut punch.”
“I couldn’t conceive of how this could not go my direction,” he said.
Ferguson first sued Eyman in 2017, claiming that he had violated state campaign-finance laws and covertly used his initiative drives to enrich himself.
Eyman’s anti-tax ballot measures have made the former watch salesman an unlikely political powerhouse in Washington for more than two decades.
A recent court filing from the attorney general alleges a decades-long pattern of laundering political donations, failing to report fundraising, pocketing money for himself and lying to his donors and to the public about all of it.
Eyman also faces a separate charge of misdemeanor theft, after he was seen on a surveillance camera wheeling a $70 office chair out of a Lacey Office Depot. Eyman, who has pleaded not guilty in the case, has said he intended to pay for the chair but became distracted.
Friday’s court hearing didn’t address any of that. It was only meant to settle whether Ferguson’s proposed punishment — the lifetime ban on managing the finances of political campaigns — could remain a possibility.
“The courts have been very explicit, money is speech,” Eyman said, representing himself. Allowing him to participate in political action committees, but not in directing their finances, “is as absurd as the idea that he can be a truck driver as long as he can’t use a truck.”
Eyman said the threat of a lifetime ban was already chilling his political speech. He said a donor had left him $91,000 in his will, but left it contingent on Eyman’s ability to do ballot measures. So, Eyman said, the potential donation waits, unusable, while his case plays out.
Eric Newman, chief litigation counsel for the attorney general’s antitrust division, argued that the potential punishment doesn’t infringe on Eyman’s speech. Eyman, he noted, agreed to a similar injunction in 2002, when he agreed to a settlement that barred him from ever again acting as treasurer for a political committee.
He accused Eyman of acting as “shadow treasurer” for all his PACs over the last 20 years.
“He talks about how impossible it would be for him to participate in the political process at all if he’s not allowed to direct the spending of other people’s money,” Newman said. “That’s the key.”
“He can spend his own money,” Newman continued. “Directing somebody else’s money is not speech, it’s somebody else’s speech.”
Dixon slowly and deliberately read his decision from the bench, immediately following the arguments.
He denied Eyman’s request to have the potential punishment thrown out, emphasizing that he would not decide on any punishment until the actual facts of the case were settled.
The $91,000 that Eyman said was unavailable to him, because of the “chilling effects” of the potential punishment did not affect Dixon’s decision.
“I’m not swayed by what happens in the event this court were to make a particular ruling,” he said.
He quoted Eyman’s words back to him, as Eyman had said he fears “there is temptation in the eyes of the court to just wait until later to decide.”
“Fear not, Mr. Eyman,” Dixon said. “There is no temptation. It’s the law. This court will not and cannot rule on what the court might do in the event the court finds the state has carried its burden.”