Tim Eyman violated campaign finance law, judge rules, is barred from controlling political committees

Tim Eyman, who for two decades has been Washington state’s most prolific conservative activist and political provocateur, committed “numerous and particularly egregious” violations of campaign finance law, a judge ruled Wednesday, as he barred Eyman from controlling the finances of political committees in the future.

The verdict, in a yearslong case in Thurston County Superior Court, could bring an end to Eyman’s years of running anti-tax initiatives that have had outsize influence on the finances of state and local governments.

“Mr. Eyman’s violations had a significant and material impact on the public,” Judge James Dixon ruled. “Mr. Eyman has personally benefited economically from these allegations.”

Dixon barred Eyman from “managing, controlling, negotiating, or directing financial transactions” for any kind of political committee.

Dixon issued a fine of more than $2.6 million. Dixon ruled that Eyman himself is a continuing political committee, under the definition in state law, and should have been filing monthly campaign finance reports for years. Eyman was 2,975 days late in filing reports, as of the start of the trial, Dixon said.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who brought the lawsuit against Eyman, had sought $7.8 million in penalties and also to permanently bar Eyman from controlling the finances of political committees. Ferguson said Wednesday that the $2.6 million fine is the largest in state history for an individual’s campaign-finance violations.

Dixon read the verdict from the bench Wednesday, speaking slowly and methodically for about 40 minutes. In a sort of preamble, he seemed to try to rebut Eyman’s arguments that the trial was unfair. Wednesday morning, Eyman said Dixon would “rubber-stamp” Ferguson’s arguments.

“This court has remained at all times,” Dixon said, “calm and reflective and has respectfully declined to the sometimes not-so-subtle invitations to join the contentious nature of the case.”

He acknowledged that “this case involves politics,” but said “it is the obligation of the court to apply the facts to the law.”

“This court means no ill will to Mr. Eyman,” he said.

As Dixon read his verdict, Eyman sat, wearing a red, long-sleeve T-shirt featuring a cartoon stork and the caption “Persistence: never give up.” He was largely still, frequently slumped forward.

Eyman was charged with laundering political donations to enrich himself; accepting kickbacks from a signature-gathering firm; secretly shuttling money between initiative campaigns; and concealing the source of other political contributions.

“In the history of Fair Campaign Practices Act enforcement, it would be difficult for the Court to conceive of a case with misconduct that is more egregious or more extensive than the misconduct committed by Defendant Eyman in this matter,” Ferguson wrote in a pretrial filing.

Ferguson, after the verdict, said that “Eyman’s day of reckoning has arrived.”

“Today’s ruling is clear — Eyman’s conduct was illegal and intentional,” he wrote in a prepared statement. The judge’s sanctions, he said, “will not prevent Eyman from conceiving, drafting and promoting initiatives. It will, however, stop his practice of directing financial kickbacks into his personal bank account.”

During a trial that began in November and continued, sporadically, into December and January, Eyman’s lawyer argued that all campaign money was properly reported and that if there were flaws in reporting, they were not Eyman’s responsibility.

“The sole duty to report, under the statute, is that of the treasurer,” Richard Sanders, Eyman’s lawyer and a former state Supreme Court justice said in his closing argument. “Mr. Eyman has no duty to report anything and is legally prohibited from reporting anything. Therefore he cannot be liable if something is misreported by the treasurer.”

Sanders had also argued that barring Eyman from controlling the finances of political committees would be an infringement on his First Amendment rights.

But Dixon disagreed. The ruling, Dixon said, “does not stop Mr. Eyman from doing what Mr. Eyman wants to do.”

“He just has to comply with the law,” Dixon said. “He has to comply with the provisions of the Fair Campaign Practices Act. And he hasn’t.”

After the hearing, Eyman called the ruling against him “unprecedented” but said he would continue his political activism,while attempting to follow the restrictions imposed.

“Like you’re a political committee but you can’t participate in the decision-making of a political committee, how does that work?” he said in a phone interview. “It’s a truly bizarre, goofy kind of thing.”

About the multimillion dollar fine, he was resigned, saying it “almost doesn’t matter.”

“Why not make it $26 million, they’ve already taken, the entire process has already taken, everything I’ve got,” he said.

The case has been a long time coming.

Many of the charges mirror a similar case that Eyman apologized for in 2002, after it was revealed he’d lied about paying himself from initiative donor funds. He paid $55,000 in fines and was banned from serving as treasurer of a political committee.

This case stems from a 2012 investigation by the state’s campaign-finance watchdog, the Public Disclosure Commission. The case was referred to Ferguson in 2015, and he filed charges in 2017.

In the meantime, Eyman was held in contempt of court for two years for refusing to cooperate with the lawsuit against him, and he paid more than $300,000 in resulting fines.

In 2018, Eyman filed for bankruptcy, claiming that the legal fees and potential fines from the state’s lawsuit against him had crippled his finances.

Last year, Dixon ruled Eyman had concealed nearly $800,000 in payments that should have been reported over the course of at least seven years.

Eyman has spent decades running initiatives to lower taxes and advance conservative policies in Washington. While he has not always been successful at the ballot box and in court, he has had a profound impact on the state’s politics and on the budgets of Washington’s cities and counties.

But along the way, Ferguson alleged, Eyman ran roughshod over state laws that require political campaigns to be open about the sources of their funding.

Among many specific instances, Ferguson pointed to a 2010 email from Eyman to Citizen Solutions, the signature-gathering firm he frequently worked with. The email said Eyman had agreed to pay $2 per signature that the firm collected to get one of his initiatives on the ballot, but that he was “doing his best” to raise money at a rate of $2.50 per signature.

His goal, Eyman wrote, was to “pay Citizen Solutions the agreed upon $2 per [signature] plus $150,000 so that you have an extra $150,000 to provide to me.”

Ferguson cited an email in which Eyman asked his accountant about tax requirements around financial gifts. He was told that a person could give each member of Eyman’s family up to $13,000 without telling the IRS.

A few months later, Ferguson alleged, after Eyman’s company had paid Citizen Solutions more than $1 million for signature gathering, two officials with Citizen Solutions paid Eyman, his wife and their three children $86,000, all in checks below the $13,000 threshold.

Dixon previously found Citizen Solutions violated the law and ordered the firm and its principal, William Agazarm, pay more than $1 million in fines for funneling money to Eyman.

Wednesday afternoon, after the verdict, Eyman emailed a link to his political committee, Permanent Offense.

“Tomorrow, it will be amended and my name will be removed,” he said, “the rest will remain the same.”