Campaign-finance investigators say they found evidence that initiative promoter Tim Eyman used money meant for one ballot measure to support a different measure and made personal use of about $170,000 in campaign money.
Staff of the Public Disclosure Commission recommended the commission refer the case to the state attorney general to take legal action against Eyman and two political committees he helps run, for what investigators call “apparent violations” of election laws prohibiting concealment of the source and use of campaign money.
“Beyond using at least $182,000 in contributions raised by Voters Want More Choices for I-1185 to support another initiative, staff 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,” the investigative findings state.
The findings came Monday, more than three years after accusations first surfaced that Eyman spent money on one campaign that was raised for another. The PDC could make a decision at its Thursday meeting.
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Eyman’s attorney, Mark Lamb, said the investigative report “omits and mischaracterizes evidence” and noted that no evidence was found to back up some of the accusations from the original August 2012 complaint. 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.
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.”
WHERE THE MONEY WENT
A signature-gathering company, Citizen Solutions, was paid more than $1.1 million to qualify Eyman-backed Initiative 1185 for the 2012 ballot.
The PDC tied part of that money to an unreported $308,185 payment in July 2012 by Citizen Solutions 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.
Of that payment, Eyman told PDC investigators he used some to support his family while passing $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 testified 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.
As described by investigators, the alleged scheme included charging donors inflated costs. 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.
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.
More than three years have passed since Sherry Bockwinkel of Tacoma filed the complaint that triggered the investigation. A veteran of the signature-gathering business, Bockwinkel worked with Eyman before a falling-out.
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.
PDC staff wrote in Monday’s findings that if Eyman took money back from Citizen Solutions, it might not have been the first time.
Several of Eyman’s campaigns have paid Citizen Solutions to manage signature gathering, and PDC staff wrote that a former Citizen Solutions manager told them 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.