On Monday, Post Alley published a post by writer and former Seattle Times opinion writer Bruce Ramsey titled “The Shutdown of Tim Eyman,” which felt to me like a deep throwback to an earlier era. That was a time when Tim Eyman used to regularly receive fawning, sympathetic press coverage in the form of columns and articles.
For many years, for example, the Associated Press would breathlessly repackage Tim Eyman emails and put them out on the wire as briefs. No opposition perspective. No discussion of the ramifications of Eyman’s awful ideas. Just Eyman’s talking points.
In 2002, I formed a project called Permanent Defense to protect Washington from Eyman’s destructive ballot measures and ensure there was a vigorous, year-round response to his bad ideas, especially in the press.
Twenty years later, Eyman is mired in an initiative drought (as Ramsey’s article pointed out), but Eyman still occasionally remains the beneficiary of columns like the one Post Alley just published.
Fortunately, Post Alley values discourse and rebuttal. So let me take the opportunity to explain several of the things that are wrong – VERY wrong – with Ramsey’s piece.
To begin with, it’s important to understand that Tim Eyman’s personal and financial problems are primarily of his own making. Ramsey’s column accepts Eyman’s notion that he is being persecuted. But that’s wrong. Eyman is being held accountable for being a serial public-disclosure law offender. There’s a difference: Eyman is reaping what he has sown.
Eyman is a liar and a lawbreaker who lies to everyone, not just the press and the public. He’s also lied to donors (including in the business community) and to many, many people in what used to be called conservative politics but could now be more accurately described as the ultra MAGA movement since its adherents and members don’t want to “conserve” anything.
It is hard to build anything truly sustainable (especially a business) on dishonesty. Tim Eyman has certainly tried, though.
Let’s look at some specific passages in Ramsey’s column that are problematic.
“The latest battle began in 2017, when Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued Eyman for ‘taking kickbacks from contractors, using campaign funds for personal expenses, redirecting donations made for one initiative to a different initiative,’ all the while “enriching himself while keeping his contributors and the public at large in the dark.'”
This battle actually goes back ten years, not five. Ramsey nods to this fact in another passage in his column, which follows a reference to 2002: “Ten years later, the state came down on him for what it called a kickback from a contractor Eyman had hired to collect voters’ signatures.”
That 2017 lawsuit originated from a complaint that was filed in 2012 by Sherry Bockwinkel of Washingtonians For Ethical Government, of which I’m also an officer. It became a PDC investigation in 2013, and was referred to the Attorney General for further investigation in 2015. That 2012 complaint concerned Eyman’s attempt to use money collected from one initiative campaign (I-1185) to stealthily qualify a totally different initiative (I-517) to the ballot.
I-517 was an attempt to change state laws pertaining to requirements for qualifying initiatives. If passed, it would lower Eyman’s costs, so that getting onto the ballot would be easier and cheaper for his initiative factory in the future. Our team at Northwest Progressive Institute worked with the business community and Republicans like Rob McKenna to defeat I-517, and over 61 percent of voters rejected it.
The state took no action against Eyman in 2012 at the time he committed the violations. It is not accurate to say or imply that in 2012, the state came down on him. It took years for Eyman’s conduct to be investigated and for action to be taken.
Between 2012 and 2016, several other complaints alleging FCPA violations were also filed against Eyman and his associates by Washingtonians For Ethical Government and Keep Washington Rolling. These ultimately got combined and they became the basis of another lawsuit by Attorney General Ferguson. The combined case ended in a default judgment because Eyman did not defend against the charges. He was ordered to pay a penalty in the tens of thousands.
If Eyman had followed the law and not tried to double cross people, there would have been no grounds for any Fair Campaign Practices Act complaints against him. By 2012, Eyman was a full-time politician and had been one for over a decade. He knew about Chapter 42.17A, and he willfully decided to flout it. Then he stonewalled the years-long investigation into his lawbreaking.
“In 2018, facing an $80,000 lawyer bill, he declared bankruptcy”
But at the time Eyman declared bankruptcy in 2018, he wasn’t actually bankrupt. That big judgment had not yet been handed down by Judge Dixon, and wouldn’t be for years. The bankruptcy was a maneuver intended to freeze Ferguson’s campaign-finance enforcement case, in effect to buy Eyman more time.
But it didn’t work. Ferguson went and got a comfort order from the federal bankruptcy judge (Marc Barreca) and the FCPA violations case in Thurston County Superior Court resumed within weeks.
Eyman then filed pleadings trying to back out of bankruptcy (demonstrating he wasn’t actually bankrupt), but the judge presciently denied his motion to dismiss. It is clear from the monthly financial reports Eyman had to file with the bankruptcy court that he was sitting on a lot of cash, at least at that juncture.
This situation didn’t last and eventually, Eyman really did become bankrupt.
“The state declared his other lawyer unfit to represent him, and for nine months Eyman had to represent himself pro se.”
Eyman went through a number of lawyers before becoming a pro se defendant. Either attorneys like Mark Lamb and Joel Ard found after taking him on as a client that they did not want to work with him, or Eyman didn’t like their representation. Regardless, Eyman had the financial resources to engage another attorney at the time he went pro se, but he did not.
It’s not Bob Ferguson’s fault that Eyman didn’t have a lawyer for a while. In fact, the AGO didn’t even want Eyman to become a pro se defendant. It’s also important to note that during this stretch of time, Eyman continuously had representation in federal bankruptcy court through the firm of Vortman & Feinstein.
“Eyman didn’t hide the funders who paid for his initiative campaigns.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong! This is actually what the 2012 complaint was about: Eyman’s attempt to get I-517 on the ballot while hiding where the money was coming from to fund the signature drive.
We also know that Eyman illegally tried to use his buddy Paul Jacobs’ “Citizens in Charge” nonprofits as passthrough entities to keep anonymous the contributions intended to go into his pockets. We have the receipts in the form of letters he sent to prospective donors promising them they could remain anonymous.
“The rap on Eyman was that he was making a living at it. This wasn’t forbidden, but no one had done it before.”
Wrong again. That’s not what the rap on Eyman was. The rap on Eyman was that he was double crossing people and flouting the law.
I am not sure what “no one had done it before” means. There are many ways to make a living from working in politics. It is entirely legitimate and appropriate to be compensated for one’s labor and talent. Plenty of people work in politics as consultants, or for nonprofits, or run political committees. There is nothing unprecedented about being a paid political operative. What is not legitimate is to operate dishonestly, illegally, and unethically as Eyman has been.
“At first, Eyman took a cut of the money he raised. In 2002 the state came down on him for that.”
The state, through then-AG Chris Gregoire, came down on Eyman not for taking a cut, but for his deception in taking a cut. Remember, at that point, Eyman had insisted he was working unpaid. Rather than announcing that he would start taking a salary, he diverted money through a shell entity (Permanent Offense Inc.) into his own pockets. He then lied to his donors, to the press, and the public about that, and only admitted he had been lying after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a story by reporter Neil Modie examining the evidence of Eyman’s deception.
“Eyman’s final way to make a living was to ask donors for money. Donors wrote their checks to Eyman, not his political committee. Attorney General Ferguson responded to this by labeling Eyman himself a political committee. When Judge Dixon accepted that, it made Eyman’s personal finances subject to the Fair Campaign Practices Act rules.”
Most people who work in politics keep their personal funds separate from their organization’s funds. Wages and compensation are properly paid out from organizational funds and become personal funds.
Eyman, however, mixes dollars liberally. He does not follow sound practices for accounting or keeping good books, creating huge FCPA compliance issues. Since Eyman has made it extremely difficult to distinguish between what is personal and what is political, the AGO proposed that the Judge Dixon issue a ruling holding that Eyman himself was functioning as a political committee, because he was.
Eyman says it’s preposterous that a person can be a political committee, but it says right there in the law that a person can be considered a political committee.
RCW 42.17A.005 — Definitions: (39) “Person” includes an individual, partnership, joint venture, public or private corporation, association, federal, state, or local governmental entity or agency however constituted, candidate, committee, political committee, political party, executive committee thereof, or any other organization or group of persons, however organized.
A “person” includes an individual and a political committee is a “person.”
RCW 42.17A.005 — Definitions: (41) “Political committee” means any person (except a candidate or an individual dealing with the candidate’s or individual’s own funds or property) having the expectation of receiving contributions or making expenditures in support of, or opposition to, any candidate or any ballot proposition.
Notice there’s an exception in (41). If Eyman kept good books, he could argue that his personal pot of money is strictly his own individual funds unconnected to any candidate or ballot measure. But he doesn’t keep good books.
That has been his choice. AGO Bob Ferguson didn’t force him to be sloppy.
“The Institute for Free Speech (IFS), a Washington, D.C., organization that pushes back against the more intrusive laws, has ranked the states on a ‘Free Speech Index.’ The index ranks Washington third-lowest of the 50 states, above only Connecticut and New York, meaning that we have the third-harshest campaign-finance regime.”
The Institute for Free Speech is a right wing organization that wants to assist Tim Eyman in escaping accountability for breaking the law. Our campaign finance system is not “harsh.” It is sensible and necessary.
There’s always room for improvement, but the IFS is not a credible judge of our state’s system. They are an advocate for dark money hiding behind the mantra of “free speech,” which is now become shorthand in right wing parlance for “we should be able to say whatever we want, whenever we want, with absolutely no consequences.” That is a privilege which incidentally they think should apply only to them and not their opposition or anybody else.
“[Eyman’s attorney] Sanders accepts Washington’s law. His complaint is that by declaring his client a one-man political committee, the state has put him in a kind of financial prison. ‘If you can declare an individual a political committee,’ he says, ‘you can shut down any political activist you want.’”
Wrong. Merely declaring an individual to be operating as a political committee isn’t going to shut them down. Eyman is still free to fundraise for both himself and his initiative factory, and he has been doing so.
People and organizations across this state successfully comply with the FCPA on an ongoing basis. Tim Eyman has refused to. Again, the prison Eyman is in is of his own making.
The state (through its ministry for justice) merely belatedly decided to hold Tim Eyman accountable for his long history of breaking the law.
It needs to be noted that Eyman’s initiative drought has coincided with a larger dearth of direct democracy in our state. Nobody else is qualifying initiatives these days, either. There were no initiatives on the ballot at all in 2020, in 2021, or in 2022 (2020 had a referendum, but no initiatives). This is partly a consequence of the pandemic, though there are other factors.
For instance, J. Vander Stoep tried to organize a measure back in the spring to do away with our new capital gains tax on the wealthy. Given the popularity of the tax, which funds education, right-wing donors did not want to move forward with it, and the plug got pulled. Lack of donor interest stopped J. Vander Stoep, and has in the past stopped dozens of Eyman schemes that I know of which never got past the pitch stage.
Tim Eyman has always depended on very rich men like the late Michael Dunmire to keep his initiative factory running. Without their generosity, the gears of his factory cannot turn.
Even without any of AG Bob Ferguson’s accountability work in our courts, Eyman would still be “shut down” at this moment unless he had one or more wealthy whales providing him with a supply of cash. Eyman simply doesn’t have the requisite wealth to annually self-fund schemes to wreck government and defund public services.