Longtime Kitsap County farmer Gerald Petersen was a staunch conservative and fan of initiative promoter Tim Eyman’s anti-tax crusades.
So shortly before he died in 2009 at age 94, Petersen drafted a will bequeathing 8 percent of his estate to “initiatives sponsored or endorsed by Tim Eyman.”
That’s resulted in more than $300,000 in payments to Eyman initiative committees — including a $160,000 check cut last month, according to Public Disclosure Commission records and the Petersen estate’s attorney.
But a few weeks after that latest check, news broke of allegations that Eyman has secretly profited off initiative-campaign donations through undisclosed payments from a Lacey signature-gathering firm.
Now, Petersen’s heirs want to know where his money actually went. Ken Kambich, the estate’s attorney, said while Petersen supported tax-limiting ballot initiatives, he never intended donations to line the pockets of Eyman or his co-sponsors.
Dorothy Lind, Petersen’s niece and personal-estate representative, said she wrote “not for compensation” in the memo line of each of the checks sent to the Eyman initiative committees.
“The family has great concern that the money that we have given has not been used in the way that Uncle Gerry would have wanted it used,” said Lind, who lives in Blind Bay, British Columbia.
On Friday, after The Seattle Times inquired about the Petersen estate’s concerns, Eyman’s attorney, Mark Lamb, contacted Kambich and offered to document that the donations were spent properly.
In an emailed statement, Lamb said, “The expenditures related to contributions from the estate of Mr. Petersen were identified, accounted for and shared with their attorney this afternoon.
“These contributions were used for campaign expenditures and not personal compensation,” he wrote.
Kambich said he received the information and forwarded it to Lind, but had not had a chance to review it.
Lind said the family will be watching Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office as it follows up on the PDC investigative report last month that accused Eyman of violating state campaign-disclosure laws.
While some family members disagree with Eyman’s initiatives, Lind said the estate’s concerns are not about politics — just making sure that “Uncle Gerry’s” last wishes were carried out.
“He was really, really strongly principled,” Lind said, and would not want his money associated with unethical behavior.
Petersen was a fixture in Kitsap County. Born in 1915 to Norwegian immigrant parents, he grew up in Port Orchard. He did a brief stint in the Army and worked as an accountant before buying a dairy farm in the mid 1940s.
With his wife, Dorothy, Petersen ran the dairy for 22 years and later switched to raising polled Hereford beef cattle, according to an obituary in the Kitsap Sun.
The couple had no children, and Dorothy died in 1989. In his will, Petersen left money to relatives, but gave the bulk of his estate to charities — much of it to wildlife and animal-care nonprofits, as well as a group advocating zero-population growth.
In a nod to his conservative political views, besides the Eyman donations, Petersen gave 6 percent of his estate to the Olympia-based Freedom Foundation, which has been waging legal fights to curtail the power of public-sector unions in Washington state.
With regard to the Eyman donations, Kambich said the estate sent its checks to Voters Want More Choices, the campaign committee that runs Eyman’s initiatives and pays signature gatherers to qualify them for the ballot.
The estate avoided sending checks to Help Us Help Taxpayers, the committee set up to pay salaries to Eyman and his co-sponsors, Jack Fagan and Mike Fagan, for their work on initiative campaigns. (PDC records show that before his death, Petersen occasionally donated to that committee — a total of $700 between 2005 and 2007.)
Kambich noted it was initially confusing to figure out which Eyman organization to donate to, as the website for Voters Want More Choices directs people to donate to Help Us Help Taxpayers.
As Petersen’s estate has been sold off, big checks in his name were sent to boost various Eyman-initiative efforts.
The largest payments, for $80,000 and $40,000, went to 2011’s Initiative 1125, which tried to restrict the use of highway tolls and block light rail from the Interstate 90 bridge, according to PDC records. The initiative was rejected by voters.
Another $40,000 was paid to Voters Want More Choices in 2014, when Eyman and his co-sponsors failed to gather enough signatures to get an anti-tax initiative similar to this year’s Initiative 1366 on the ballot.
While it has not shown up in PDC records yet, Petersen’s estate representatives say they sent the biggest check yet — $160,000 — to Voters Want More Choices in early September.
The Eyman campaign committee this year has been focused on I-1366, which would cut the state sales tax unless the Legislature sends a tax-limiting constitutional amendment to the 2016 ballot.
In the PDC reports, none of the Petersen contributions mentioned they were from an estate of a deceased supporter — they merely named Petersen and listed his occupation as “farmer” or “retired.”
Lind said she doubts the estate could ever get money back that it has donated. But, she added, if Eyman or his allies misused funds, “We don’t really want to give them any more money.”