Tim Eyman is locally famous as the maestro of Washington’s citizen initiative, the brash anti-tax activist who qualifies a measure for the state ballot nearly every year.
Eyman may take the spotlight, but his committees pay a contractor to manage the on-the-ground work of finding hundreds of thousands of voters to sign petitions and make Eyman’s ideas reality. In the past decade, that money has typically gone to a firm called Citizen Solutions.
But campaign-finance investigators have discovered the flow of money goes both ways.
They said Monday that Eyman appears to have authorized payments to Citizen Solutions knowing the company would route part of the money back to him, violating prohibitions on concealment of spending and on personal use of campaign funds.
The findings come more than three years after accusations surfaced that Eyman spent money on one campaign that was raised for another. PDC staff found evidence to back that up, too.
Jan Gee, president of a trade group for grocers that has sometimes been at odds with Eyman, said she had begun to be discouraged by the long wait but now sees investigators were being thorough.
“He’s been making a lot of money off of all this,” Gee said of Eyman, “and the citizens of this state need to know he’s not there to protect their tax dollars. He’s there because it’s his paying job, and there’s nothing wrong with that if you’re honest about it.”
The findings call for the commission to refer the case to the state attorney general for legal action against Eyman and two political committees he helps run. The PDC could make a decision at its Thursday meeting.
Eyman’s attorney, Mark Lamb, said the investigative report “omits and mischaracterizes evidence” and noted that no evidence was found to back up some accusations from the original August 2012 complaint filed by Sherry Bockwinkel of Tacoma, a onetime Eyman associate before they had a falling-out. He said Eyman “believes all required information was reported.”
“My client firmly believes it is not a coincidence that an investigation which lay dormant for so long suddenly sprang to life shortly after opponents failed to block a vote on the latest tax initiative,” Lamb wrote in a statement.
Eyman has made his name pursuing conservative ballot measures restricting taxes and fees. One is on the Nov. 3 ballot. It would cut the state’s sales tax unless state lawmakers agree to initiate a constitutional amendment requiring two-thirds supermajorities for tax increases in the Legislature.
PDC investigators tracked money raised for a 2012 ballot measure and said in their findings that they “found evidence that Mr. Eyman made personal use of approximately $170,000 of those funds, using them for personal living expenses to support his family.”
Citizen Solutions was paid more than $1.1 million to qualify Eyman-backed Initiative 1185 for the 2012 ballot.
The report says that while Citizen Solutions was to receive $3.50 per voter signature as part of an initial agreement on I-1185, records indicate Citizen Solutions paid petition coordinators between $1 and $1.40 per signature, keeping at least $2.10 per signature.
The PDC said Citizen Solutions then paid an unreported $308,185 in July 2012 to a limited-liability company formed by Eyman.
Eyman told the PDC under questioning that Citizen Solutions paid him so he would find new clients for the company, but that they had no written agreement.
PDC staff wrote that if Eyman took money back that he had steered to Citizen Solutions, it might not have been the first time.
A former Citizen Solutions manager told investigators a previous incarnation of the firm paid Eyman multiple times between 2004 and 2011, between $5,000 and $100,000 each time.
Time may have expired for state action on any violations during much of that period.
Over the years, accusations of paying himself out of campaign funds have dogged Eyman. The PDC referred a 2002 case to the Attorney General’s Office that led to penalties and fees of about $55,000 and a ban on Eyman taking on financial responsibilities in campaigns.
Eyman didn’t keep all of the 2012 payment. He passed $190,000 to a Virginia group that went on to spent $182,000 between July and October trying to put a different Eyman-backed measure, Initiative 517, on the 2013 ballot.
Eyman told the PDC his payment to the out-of-state group, Citizens in Charge, was a zero-interest loan that has since been partly paid back.
He maintained he had no assurances the loan would be used to support his 2013 initiative. But investigators concluded “it was clear he understood that the funds his LLC provided would be used to sponsor signature gathering for I-517, and were necessary for that support.”
I-1185 had support from deep-pocketed business groups. It aimed to reinstate a requirement making it harder to raise taxes in the Legislature by requiring support of two-thirds majorities.
I-517 didn’t have the same kind of backing and some business interests, like grocers, opposed it. Instead, most of its financial support was reported as coming from Citizens in Charge. I-517 was an “initiative on initiatives” that aimed to protect signature gathering from interference — such as in front of stores — and give campaigns more time to collect signatures.
“He used our own money to target us on 517,” Gee said.
Voters overwhelmingly approved I-1185 in 2012, but the state Supreme Court ruled the next year that such a restriction is unconstitutional. Voters rejected I-517 in 2013.