A Thurston County Superior Court judge has ruled that anti-tax initiative promoter Tim Eyman could potentially be punished with a lifetime ban on managing or directing the finances of a political committee.
Judge James Dixon ruled Friday in connection with Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s long-running lawsuit against Eyman claiming that Eyman violated state campaign-finance laws and covertly used his initiative drives to enrich himself, the Seattle Times reported .
Eyman had filed a motion to have the potential punishment thrown out, arguing that it would be an unconstitutional infringement on his First Amendment right to speech. He said the possibility of such a ban was having a chilling effect on his ability to fund ballot initiatives.
“The courts have been very explicit, money is speech,” Eyman said, representing himself. Allowing him to participate in political action committees, but not in directing their finances, “is as absurd as the idea that he can be a truck driver as long as he can’t use a truck.”
Eric Newman, chief litigation counsel for the attorney general’s antitrust division, argued that the potential punishment doesn’t infringe on Eyman’s speech. Eyman, he noted, agreed to a similar injunction in 2002, when he agreed to a settlement that barred him from ever again acting as treasurer for a political committee.
In his decision, Dixon denied Eyman’s request to have the potential punishment thrown out, emphasizing that he wouldn’t decide on any punishment until the actual facts of the case were settled.
Dixon also quoted Eyman’s words back to him, as Eyman had said he fears “there is temptation in the eyes of the court to just wait until later to decide.”
“Fear not, Mr. Eyman,” Dixon said. “There is no temptation. It’s the law. This court will not and cannot rule on what the court might do in the event the court finds the state has carried its burden.”
Afterward, Eyman called the ruling a “gut punch.”
“I couldn’t conceive of how this could not go my direction,” he said.
Eyman’s anti-tax ballot measures have made the former watch salesman an unlikely political powerhouse in the state for more than 20 years.
A recent court filing from the attorney general alleges a decades-long pattern of laundering political donations, failing to report fundraising, pocketing money for himself and lying to his donors and to the public about all of it.
Eyman also faces a separate charge of misdemeanor theft, after he was seen on a surveillance camera wheeling a $70 office chair out of a Lacey Office Depot. Eyman, who has pleaded not guilty in the case, has said he intended to pay for the chair but became distracted.