February 10th, 2021
Understanding State of Washington v. Tim Eyman
Today, Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon is expected to release his ruling in the main State of Washington v. Tim Eyman case, No. 17-2-01546-34, which concerns serious violations of Washington State’s public disclosure laws.
During his more than twenty years of political involvement, initiative promoter and failed gubernatorial candidate Tim Eyman has consistently tried to conceal the extent of his fundraising and electioneering from the public, in flagrant violation of RCW Chapter 42.17A, the public disclosure law that voters originally approved by initiative back in the 1970s.
Through the long-running case No. 17-2-01546-34, Attorney General Bob Ferguson is seeking to hold Eyman accountable for these violations.
Below is a Q&A about the case that delves into its history and debunks some of the disinformation that Eyman has been putting out in an effort to evade responsibility for his wrongdoing.
Q: How did this case get started, and what is it about?
A: The case dates back to the summer of 2012, when Eyman’s opponents noticed he was trying to qualify an initiative on initiatives to the Washington State Legislature (meaning, an initiative that would actually change several RCWs pertaining to qualifying initiatives and collecting signatures for initiatives). One of Eyman’s opponents, Washingtonians For Ethical Government‘s Sherry Bockwinkel, filed a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission asserting that Eyman’s stealthy I-517 effort violated Washington State’s public disclosure law. I-517 went on to qualify as an initiative to the Legislature, and eventually ended up on the ballot. In the meantime, the PDC opened an investigation into Eyman’s initiative factory that ran for over two years. The investigation was concluded in September 2015, with PDC staff and commissioners having found multiple serious violations. Commissioners voted to refer the case to Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office for further investigation. Ferguson’s office spent a year and a half continuing the investigation before suing Eyman in March of 2017.
Q: What was I-517?
It was an initiative that sought to lengthen the timeframe for gathering signatures on initiatives and give petitioners special privileges in state law that no one else would have, allowing them to have access to venues like Lumen Field (formerly CenturyLink Field) for the purpose of collecting signatures. The overriding objective of I-517 was to make it easier and cheaper for Eyman to qualify initiatives to the ballot in the future. I-517 was fought by a well-organized, bipartisan opposition coalition that included progressive and business groups. Voters overwhelmingly rejected Initiative 517 in November of 2013 in what remains Eyman’s biggest ever electoral defeat if you go by the percentage of No votes the measure received.
Q: Why didn’t Eyman want the public to know he was trying to qualify I-517?
A: Primarily because he was using money raised for another initiative campaign to fund the measure’s signature drive. That other campaign was for I-1185, which appeared on the ballot in November of 2012, but which had its signature drive in the spring of 2012. I-1185 restated the unconstitutional scheme subjecting revenue bills to a two-thirds vote of the Washington State Legislature, in violation of Article II, Section 22 of the Washington State Constitution. I-1185 and its predecessors were subsequently invalidated in League of Education Voters v. State, a landmark Supreme Court decision handed down in 2013. Eyman knew that many business groups liked the idea of empowering legislative Republicans to effectively have an unconstitutional veto over any bill that would increase state revenue, and he went to them asking for funds to get I-1185 on the ballot. He got what he needed, and then some. Several business groups liked the idea of I-1185 and wanted to financially support it, but didn’t fully trust Eyman, so they set up their own PAC to funnel money directly to signature gathering company Citizen Solutions. What they did not appreciate was that Citizen Solutions and Eyman were joined at the hip, and that some of their money was going to end up in Eyman’s pockets anyway.
Q: How did Eyman’s opposition realize he was diverting money from one campaign to another?
A: By talking to people and doing some simple arithmetic. We have long tracked the goings-on in the mostly unregulated signature gathering industry, and we noticed there was a paid drive taking place for I-517, but did not find corresponding paperwork for I-517 filed with the Public Disclosure Commission like it should have been. Paid signature gatherers expect to be paid for their labor… they don’t work for free, so someone was paying them to gather signatures for I-517. Tim Eyman has a history of diverting funds raised for one thing for another — in the early 2000s, he helped himself to campaign donations and then lied about that — and we concluded that was likely happening again. Since petitioners are paid by the signature in Washington State, we were able to calculate approximately what the I-1185 signature drive cost. From talking to some of the petitioners, we learned what the going rate was for an I-1185 signature, and from talking to the Secretary of State, we knew how many signatures had actually been turned in by Eyman and his sidekicks. The total amount of money raised for I-1185 in the spring of 2012 far exceeded what we calculated the actual cost of the signature drive was, resulting in a sizable profit for Eyman and his buddies at Citizen Solutions, Roy Ruffino and Eddie Agazarm. Evidence uncovered during the investigations shows that Eyman and Agazarm were the scheming minds behind I-517. They chose to funnel a big portion of their windfall into a project that I-1185 funders were not consulted about, and had no knowledge of.
Q: How did I-1185’s funders feel about I-517?
A: Many felt betrayed. Eyman took money explicitly given for one initiative and then used it for another. Several business leaders are on record as saying they would not have given money to either Eyman or Citizen Solutions if they had known it would be used for I-517 instead of I-1185. Organizations like the Washington Food Industry Association (which represents family owned grocers and independent chains like PCC Community Markets) suffered the injustice of having their own money spent against them to qualify an initiative that they opposed, which they viewed as infringing on the private property rights of their members. After I-517 qualified, WFIA and the Northwest Progressive Institute (formerly on the opposite sides of I-1185) joined forces with the Northwest Grocery Association, Kroger, Walmart, the Washington Retail Association and others to build a strong opposition campaign to I-517, which, as mentioned, was a spectacular success.
Q: Okay, so the events that prompted this case happened in 2012 and 2013… why has it dragged on for so long?
A: Principally because Eyman wanted it to. It is quite evident that he doesn’t want to be held accountable for his wrongdoing. We have dubbed his legal defense strategy stonewalling in the extreme. At every turn, Eyman and his cohorts have been uncooperative, and have tried to obstruct investigators, first from the PDC and then from Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office. There are lots of ways to waste time and and drag out an investigation, and Eyman and his lawyers have used pretty much every tactic that we know of to run out the clock. The litany of excuses they’ve offered for noncompliance with subpoenas could fill a book. For much of the last few years, Eyman has been in contempt of court, racking up fines because he would not timely comply with discovery orders. This case could have been decided long ago if Eyman hadn’t stonewalled. The predicament he is in is of his own making.
Q: Tim Eyman says this case is an effort to persecute him and institute a lifetime ban on future political activity… what’s the real story?
A: To Tim Eyman, accountability feels like persecution, because Tim is used to operating above the law and getting away with it. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is asking Judge James Dixon to impose a large fine on Eyman and require that he be subjected to oversight/supervision in the future when directing and controlling money for a political committee. In other words, Eyman wouldn’t be able to continue to fly solo as he has for most of his political career, willfully disregarding our public disclosure laws. While Eyman tries to make it sound in his email missives like lots of other people are involved in his initiative factory, the reality is that he occupies every single key role. Eyman is the CEO, the President, the Chairman, the CMO, the COO, the CFO, and so on. He is the one and only decisionmaker. Everyone else is a subordinate, including his treasurers, who serve in a ministerial capacity (per an agreement reached with the state years ago, Eyman cannot serve as a campaign treasurer.) Attorney General Bob Ferguson wants that status quo to end, and for Eyman to have to get somebody else’s signoff before spending money on electioneering.
Q: Have there been other State of Washington v. Tim Eyman cases?
A: Yes, several… and they ended in default after Eyman didn’t bother to mount a defense.