It feels like déjà vu with Tim Eyman and his secretive campaign-finance maneuvers.
State investigators say the professional initiative promoter from Mukilteo once again misused money given to ballot campaigns he championed, including $308,000 in apparent kickbacks in 2012 from a signature-gathering company, Citizen Solutions, which his various campaigns had hired and paid.
Eyman also gave $200,000 of previously undisclosed funds – Eyman claims it was a loan, despite a lack of supporting paperwork – to a Virginia-based company that supported one of his other initiatives in 2012. That group, Citizens in Charge, then contributed some $182,000 for signature gathering on Initiative 517 while calling it an in-kind contribution.
The Public Disclosure Commission took its first look Thursday at the staff investigation, which contends Eyman spent $170,000 of campaign money on his own family. We support commissioners’ strongly worded decision to ask Attorney General Bob Ferguson to get to the bottom of the latest alleged wrongdoing and seek financial penalties higher than the PDC’s $10,000 — and potentially criminal charges.
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The PDC has sworn statements from a principal at the signature-gathering firm that say Eyman asked for, and received, repayments after other campaigns of $5,000 to $100,000. There may be more to dig up here.
If true, the funds shifting and concealment are gross violations of state campaign finance rules that are meant to let the public know how money is raised and spent in campaigns.
It was 13 years ago that Eyman proclaimed that he worked for free all the while secretly taking funds for his own use – including money for repairs on his Lexus windshield. That deception in diverting campaign funds for hidden purposes led to the PDC and AG imposing $55,000 in penalties. It also caused a major falling out between Eyman and one of his initiative team members.
Like anyone accused of wrongdoing, Eyman deserves a chance to tell his side of the story. But he’s declined comment, and his attorney Mark Lamb isn’t saying much – except to argue that the PDC’s 224-page report “omits and mischaracterizes evidence” and that evidence in the report contradicts the charges.
In the hyper-inflated style that Eyman perfected while compiling his remarkable record of qualifying initiatives for the ballot since 1999, Lamb said Eyman “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.”
Many things are possible, but this latter claim is bilge water. The PDC says the case took three years because Eyman was uncooperative until the attorney general went to court a few weeks ago to compel the release of certain documents.
Eyman rose from the ashes of his first brush with campaign finance law, and he could again defy critics who have been mystified at times by his staying power.
The state needs to get to the bottom of this, and a wider look at other initiative campaigns Eyman has orchestrated is clearly in order. The AG should go for gusto.
By Brad Shannon for the editorial board.