OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington state is seeking to bar initiative promoter Tim Eyman from having any future financial control of political committees as a judge hears arguments that he solicited kickbacks, laundered donations and flouted campaign finance law in a long-running scheme to enrich himself.
Eyman's trial before Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon opened Monday in a 2017 lawsuit brought by the attorney general's office. The court previously found Eyman committed other violations as part of the case, including that he failed to disclose more than $766,000 in campaign contributions that he received in personal accounts. Eyman had to pay more than $300,000 in contempt-of-court sanctions for obstructing the state's investigation.
Among the issues remaining at the trial is whether Eyman hid a $308,000 kickback from the for-profit signature-gathering firm Citizen Solutions. The state is seeking steep financial penalties in addition to the ban on controlling political money.
"Tim Eyman has continually and willfully violated the law for his own personal benefit," Assistant Attorney General S. Todd Sipe told the judge during his opening statement Monday, The Seattle Times reported. He added: "There is no reason to believe those violations will not continue without appropriate action taken by this court."
Eyman has for the past two-decades-plus made a living promoting ballot initiatives, many of them designed to limit taxes — and for nearly as long he's had a record of significant campaign finance violations. In 2002, the Public Disclosure Commission warned him that he could not accept political contributions personally by characterizing them as “gifts," and the following year a judge barred him from serving as the treasurer of any political committee.
The state argues that he subverted that ruling by continuing to act as treasurer even though someone else nominally held the position. As for the kickback, the state says Eyman overpaid the signature gathering firm, and that it then funneled the money back to him by purportedly hiring him as a consultant.
Eyman's attorney, former state Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders, insisted that Eyman disclosed everything required of him under the state’s campaign finance laws. Even if Eyman hadn't, the fault wasn't with him, but with the treasurer of his political committees, Stan Long, a lawyer and accountant who died in a 2014 car crash, Sanders said.
“Tim looked up to Stan and trusted his judgment,” Sanders said. “That reporting was solely Mr. Long’s responsibility and absolutely not Mr. Eyman’s responsibility.”
Sanders portrayed Eyman as a citizen-activist whose life has fallen apart because of the lawsuit against him.
“Mr. Eyman is a man of modest means, he’s an enthusiastic proponent of the initiative process,” Sanders said. “As a results of this litigation, he’s lost his wife, he’s lost his home and he’s gone bankrupt.”
Sanders argued that the campaign paid a fair rate for the work Citizen Solutions did and that, after the fact, Citizen Solutions hired Eyman and his company as a consultant.
“It was their money,” Sanders said of Citizen Solutions. “There was no duty for the campaign to report that, Stan Long decided not to report it.”
The trial is expected to last about four days.
Voters in 2019 approved Eyman’s most recent ballot measure, Initiative 976, which would have gutted transportation budgets throughout the state by severely cutting fees for car registrations. The state Supreme Court unanimously struck it down last month as unconstitutional.