Must-read editorial: “Tim Eyman is in a heap of big trouble”

In the CourtsStatements & Advisories

This morning, The Olympian published an outstanding editorial condemning Tim Eyman’s continued attempts to escape responsibility for his lawbreaking, and warning Washingtonians against contributing to his legal defense fund, which Eyman has been using to pay tens of thousands of dollars in recently accrued contempt penalties, attorney’s fees, and court costs.

Eyman was held in contempt of court over seven months ago for failing to turn over records sought by Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office in the main State of Washington v. Eyman case. A total of four campaign finance enforcement cases were filed by Ferguson’s office in 2016 and 2017 against Eyman and his associates. Three were filed two years ago in September of 2016; a fourth was filed in March of 2017.

The main State of Washington v. Eyman case concerns the initiative promoter’s illegal acts in support of his “initiative on initiative” (I-517) which voters overwhelmingly rejected five years ago. Eyman qualified I-517 in 2012 through a stealth signature drive with money he transferred from one of his other campaign committees through an out of state entity back to himself and his associates.

Donors to that other campaign did not know that Eyman was using their money to qualify an entirely different initiative.

“State law keeps tightening like a vice on Washington’s most prolific initiative promoter, Tim Eyman,” The Olympian noted. “This vice should tighten. Another quarter-turn or more is needed to force out the truth.”

The editorial goes on to point out that there’s little difference between giving money to one of Eyman’s political committees and giving money to his legal defense fund.

“In Eyman’s solicitations, he’s arguing that his future as an anti-tax initiative promoter is at stake. Which sounds a lot like a campaign solicitation,” the editorial board noted. “Indeed, Eyman has bills to pay. One one hand, he is pushing initiatives. But he could face fines of more than $2 million if AG [Attorney General Bob] Ferguson is successful with his lawsuit alleging wrongdoing.”

“It’s hard to believe that anyone who donates to Eyman’s Go Fund Me account for legal costs are different from those who donate to his political efforts,” the board added. “Absent court orders for Eyman to publicly release the identity of his defense-fund donors, we’ll never know which special-interest carve-outs or protections in future Eyman initiatives are not pay backs for the help they give in 2018 or 2019 to keep Eyman solvent and in the initiative business.”

While state law requires that the identities of donors to campaigns be disclosed, Eyman is assuring prospective donors to his legal defense fund that they will remain anonymous.

“I’m asking everyone to match or exceed the amount you’ve given in past years (it’ll be anonymous and unreported since it’s going towards my legal bills),” Eyman says at the end of one of his fundraising letters.

“We wholeheartedly agree with The Olympian that state law should be changed to regulate legal defense funds established by individuals or entities facing allegations that they violated our campaign finance laws,” said Northwest Progressive Institute founder and Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve, who has been organizing opposition to Eyman’s initiative factory for over sixteen years.

“The status quo is untenable. Perhaps our state needs an independent inspector general with the authority to examine bank statements and other records to ensure that funds raised for legal defense are actually being spent on legal defense.”

Eyman is currently fundraising both for his legal defense fund and for his next con, Initiative 976. On one website, he asks his followers to give to the former; on another website, he asks his followers to give to the latter. And he’s using his mailing list to pitch each. It matters not that the money is ostensibly for different purposes and being raised through separate funnels, for ultimately it ends up in a bank account that Eyman controls.

Because Eyman pays himself out of his campaign coffers (and even gets kickbacks from his main vendor, Citizen Solutions), he’s always fundraising for himself, no matter what entity he’s asking people to make a check out to.

This isn’t the first time Eyman has fundraised in tandem like this.

Fifteen years ago, Eyman solicited donations for a legal defense fund at at the same time he was raising money for an initiative, I-807. Then, as now, Eyman was in heaps of trouble for violating our campaign finance laws.

After Eyman’s solicitations became public knowledge, founding NPI boardmember Steve Zemke, who remains involved today with NPI as a senior advisor, called on the Public Disclosure Commission to investigate Eyman’s personal fundraising.

“This seems to be a pretty transparent effort to allow campaign funds to be sent directly to him without being disclosed to the public,” Zemke wrote in a complaint filed with the Public Disclosure Commission.

“Because they wouldn’t be reported, the public would not know how much or who gave money to support Tim Eyman to allow him to donate his services to campaigns. Are there secret big donors supporting his campaigns like I-807 who do not want the public to know who they are or how much they are willing to give to allow Eyman to do ‘free’ consulting?”

The PDC ultimately declined to take action and dismissed Zemke’s complaint.

State lawmakers need to address this loophole in our public disclosure law when they return in January. As The Olympian said: “Let’s not look away and pretend there isn’t a behind-the-scenes maneuver under way here. Let’s hold political actors including lobbying interests and others accountable for the money they spend in politics. That includes politics-related legal skirmishes that could shield actual campaign contributions.”

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