Tim Eyman has spent years vilifying Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, calling him a “fascist,” complaining of persecution and saying the campaign finance lawsuit Ferguson brought against him would essentially bar him from politics forever.
But in the wake of that lawsuit, which last week resulted in nearly unprecedented punishments and restrictions on Eyman’s future political and financial activity, the Republican activist has come to agree with the Democratic attorney general on at least one thing: Eyman’s political career need not be finished.
On Wednesday, Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon ruled that Eyman’s violations of state campaign finance law, over years, were “particularly extensive and egregious,” and he forbid Eyman from controlling the finances of any political committee.
What does that mean? Well, a lot.
Here is an incomplete list of things Eyman cannot do, per Dixon’s order:
Eyman cannot receive money from anyone who has previously provided him political services. Eyman cannot authorize spending for any political committee. Eyman cannot have a bank account that holds any political committee funds. Eyman cannot accept a check for a political committee. Eyman cannot transfer money from one political committee to another, or to himself.
Here is an incomplete list of things Eyman must do:
If Eyman wants to continue soliciting contributions for his political work, he must establish a political committee, which must report all contributions and spending. If that committee wants to pay Eyman, someone else must make the decision, not him. Eyman can have no financial decision-making authority for any political committee. Eyman must report any payments he receives, from anybody, unless they’re specifically for a legal-defense fund or from an employer that issues a W-2.
Again, these are incomplete lists.
In the history of Washington state’s campaign finance law, Dixon wrote, “it would be difficult for the Court to conceive of a case with misconduct that is more egregious or more extensive.”
Dixon fined Eyman $2.6 million, even though he said a larger fine was “warranted.” (Eyman pays $10,000 to the state on the fifth of each month, a sum that will rise to $13,500 next year and continue for the foreseeable future.) Dixon declined to issue a larger fine because it could get “so large that it is excessive even under the most egregious of cases, which this case is.”
Instead, he issued additional penalties sought by Ferguson — a set of injunctions and restrictions intended to forever bar Eyman from participating in the financial aspects of a political campaign.
Eyman previously argued in court that such a punishment “deprives me of all rights protected under the First Amendment.” He previously said the punishment amounted to a “lifetime ban on all my future political activity.”
He now admits that is not the case.
Eyman says he will continue the work that’s both given him his livelihood and made him among the most influential people in state politics over the last two decades. He says he will remove his name from his political committee, Permanent Offense, and it will be run by its two other officers, but “the rest will remain the same.” As of Friday evening, he had not removed his name from the committee.
“It’s ironic, throughout this case he wrote over and over how if we were successful he could no longer do this work,” Ferguson said in a phone interview. “Now he’s saying what we said all along, ‘Yes he can continue doing this work, yes, I agree.’ That’s what we’ve been saying from day one.”
“He can conceive of initiatives, draft an initiative, promote an initiative, speak about an initiative,” Ferguson continued. “He just can no longer be involved in the financial affairs of the initiative because he’s demonstrated repeatedly that he will engage in illegal kickbacks.”
Ferguson said his office will continue monitoring Eyman’s finances — Eyman has to file monthly financial disclosures with court, after filing for bankruptcy in 2018. He said they would be asking Dixon to retain jurisdiction over the case, so if they find violations they can immediately present them to the court.
“If Tim Eyman fails to follow the requirements of the injunction he will see us in court again,” Ferguson said.
Kim Bradford, a spokesperson for the state Public Disclosure Commission, which oversees campaign finance, said they would notify Ferguson’s office of anything “implicating” the judge’s orders and would “enforce the full extent of state campaign finance laws.”
Andrew Villeneuve, the founder of the Northwest Progressive Institute, who founded a political committee (Permanent Defense) specifically to oppose Eyman initiatives, said he was skeptical Eyman would comply with the ruling.
“We want to have the Fair Campaign Practices Act mean something, because it doesn’t mean anything to Tim, he just thinks it’s a joke,” Villeneuve said. “I wish I could say or believe that Eyman would follow the law, but there’s nothing in his history that says he will.”
John Carlson, a conservative radio host who ran initiative campaigns in the 1990s, including one he took over from Eyman, said he was surprised when Eyman said he’d continue bringing initiatives, despite the “land mines” (Eyman’s term) Dixon had laid for him.
“I told him he’d best be careful, because none of those land mines are duds,” Carlson said. “I have a tough time believing he can be a part of an initiative campaign without wanting to control it. It would drive him nuts.”
“He’s portraying this as a minor setback, it’s not minor, this is the equivalent of a tradesman losing his license,” Carlson said. “It’s impossible to read the court’s decision and conclude he can remain in the initiative business.”
Carlson said he thinks the political climate in Washington — with Democrats dominant — remains ripe for conservative activism, “where one party has such command of both houses that they drift out of touch with the voting public at large.
“People will rise to the occasion to lead these campaigns,” he said. “They will take up the mantle.”
Eyman says it’s “full steam ahead.” He’s currently pushing two new initiatives, to preemptively stop an income tax and a carbon tax in Washington.
Will the former watch salesman be able to continue to make his living through political initiatives as he’s done for more than two decades?
Eyman sighed. “There are certainly financial challenges for me in the future.”
In court on Wednesday, Eyman arrived not in a collared shirt and tie, but in a bright red long-sleeve T-shirt. He’s worn a similar shirt for years. It features a cartoon of a stork eating a frog, but even as the frog is deep in the bird’s maw, it’s got its hand around the stork’s neck, blindly choking it, refusing to be swallowed.
Eyman, in his own metaphor, is the frog; “the system” is the stork.
“Just hanging on, you’re not going to swallow me,” he said. “I’m going to hang on all the way until the end.”