Tim Eyman has been in violation of Washington campaign finance laws for at least the last seven years, concealing nearly $800,000 in political contributions, a Thurston County Superior Court judge ruled Friday.
Since 2012, Judge James Dixon ruled, Eyman has raised more than $766,000 to compensate himself for the political work he does — serially running anti-tax ballot initiatives. But he didn’t report any of that money to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission, as is required for political donations.
“Undisputed fact establishes that Defendant Eyman has an expectation of receiving funds toward electoral goals, which requires reporting,” Dixon wrote in granting partial summary judgment to state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, in his long-running lawsuit against Eyman. “This Court hereby finds that Defendant Eyman is a ‘continuing political committee’ as that term is defined” in state law.
Dixon’s ruling did not address the original allegations that Ferguson made against Eyman — improperly using political donations for personal use and concealing the source of other political contributions. Those issues remain unsettled and a trial is scheduled for July, days before voters receive their primary ballots to determine whether Eyman will advance in his campaign for governor. Any potential punishment for Eyman would come after the trial.
As of Friday, Dixon wrote, Eyman is at least 2,706 days (about seven years and five months) late in registering as a political committee. He’s also a combined 173,862 days (about 476 years) late in filing 110 monthly campaign finance reports, Dixon ruled. That tardiness could carry a cost. The penalty for filing a late report is $10 a day, and that could be bumped to $30 a day if the judge rules the violations were intentional, which could potentially leave Eyman vulnerable to a fine of more than $5 million.
“Eyman is being held in contempt of court — and today’s ruling reveals his contempt for our campaign finance laws,” Ferguson said in a prepared statement. “Eyman will say anything to avoid accountability for his conduct, but his lies won’t work in a courtroom.”
Eyman released a statement from his lawyer, who called the ruling the most “bizarre and unprecedented situation” he’d seen in his career.
“Contributions to a politically outspoken individual intended and used to survive the AG’s attacks on him and his family are not reportable under the statute,” Eyman’s attorney, Richard Sanders, a former state Supreme Court justice, said. “It is an effort to ruin Mr. Eyman’s reputation and prevent him from speaking out. Moreover, it also violates Mr. Eyman’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association.”
Eyman, a longtime conservative activist, is now a leading Republican candidate for governor. Friday’s ruling is the latest setback for Eyman in a campaign-finance investigation that dates back to 2012. Ferguson sued him in 2017, charging that Eyman has spent years violating campaign finance law to enrich himself — laundering political donations, accepting kickbacks and taking campaign money for personal use.
Eyman has claimed that his legal costs and the potential of a more than $3 million fine from the lawsuit have driven him to bankruptcy. But Ferguson has also opposed him in bankruptcy court, arguing that Eyman’s spending — nearly $24,000 a month — is wildly inappropriate for someone who claims bankruptcy, and that Eyman is purposely trying to “spend down his estate” to get out of paying the fine.
Eyman has been in contempt of court for nearly two years for refusing to cooperate with the lawsuit against him, and he currently owes more than $230,000 in sanctions, a sum that’s growing at $500 a day.
He faces a potential lifetime ban on directing the finances of political committees when he goes to trial this summer.
Ferguson’s case against Eyman, first filed in 2017, alleges that for years, Eyman and the signature-gathering firm Citizen Solutions have hidden 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.