Initiative promoter Tim Eyman talks to reporters Oct. 15 in front of the Temple of Justice in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)

Initiative promoter Tim Eyman talks to reporters Oct. 15 in front of the Temple of Justice in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)

Eyman fights allegation he repeatedly broke campaign laws

In a lawsuit, the state accuses the prolific initiative promoter of getting kickbacks.

OLYMPIA — Tim Eyman is the state’s ubiquitous promoter of anti-tax initiatives.

Is the former Mukilteo resident also a money launderer who has steered hundreds of thousands of dollars through ballot measure campaigns into his pockets?

On Monday, a civil trial began in Thurston County Superior Court to sort it out.

The trial stems from a 2017 lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson that accuses Eyman of secretly moving campaign money between two initiatives and receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from the signature-gathering firm with which he’s teamed up for nearly two decades.

Eyman is also accused of failing to report as political contributions as much as a million dollars collected from friends and supporters dating back to 2013 — money that Eyman insists were gifts and intended solely for his personal use and not covered under state campaign finance disclosure laws.

Ferguson is seeking millions of dollars in damages against Eyman and asking the court to permanently bar him from participating in or directing financial transactions for any political committees going forward.

Eyman has been prohibited since 2002 from acting as a treasurer in a political committee due to a previous violation of using political funds for personal use, but he continues to flout those rules, assistant attorney general Todd Sipe said in his opening statement Monday.

He’s unrepentant and “will continue to violate the law,” Sipe said. “There’s no evidence he’ll stop without injunctive relief.”

Richard Sanders, a retired Supreme Court justice representing Eyman, said in his opening statement that “every relevant transaction” was accurately reported to the Public Disclosure Commission.

State law does not require Eyman to report money he received for personal expenses, he said. And what the state alleges to be a kickback was a payment for services rendered under a lawful agreement, Sanders said.

You don’t need hundreds of exhibits and thousands of pages of depositions “to understand the state doesn’t have a case,” Sanders said.

Judge James Dixon is presiding over the trial, which is expected to run at least through Thursday.

Eyman could testify twice because he’s on the witness list for both sides.

Other possible witnesses include initiative donors and individuals who wrote checks to Eyman for use by him and his family.

State attorneys spent much of the trial’s first day untangling what Ferguson has described as an elaborate web of financial transactions involving Eyman, allegedly to hide campaign funds and enrich himself while keeping donors and the public in the dark.

The dispute began with a complaint filed in August 2012 with the Public Disclosure Commission by Sherry Bockwinkel of Tacoma. It alleged Eyman failed to report that he was shifting money donated for Initiative 1185, a tax-limiting measure, into the campaign for Initiative 517, which sought to modify the initiative and referendum process.

Under state election law, money can be moved from one political committee to another, but it must be disclosed in reports to the commission. And the sources of the money that is shifted must be revealed, as well.

The Public Disclosure Commission conducted a three-year investigation. It relied on bank records, emails and interviews to diagram how Eyman steered payments through his political committee, Voters Want More Choices, to Citizen Solutions, allegedly knowing that a portion of the money would be paid back to him for personal use and political activity.

Commissioners found the action so egregious that they delivered it to Ferguson to pursue. It’s been a slog. Eyman has resisted and to date paid $307,000 in contempt violations for not providing requested documents as required, according to Ferguson’s office.

Tony Perkins, a senior investigator with the attorney general’s office, was the first witness Monday. He oversaw the PDC probe before joining Ferguson’s campaign finance unit.

Voters Want More Choices conducted the campaign for I-1185 and paid Citizen Solutions $623,325 for collecting signatures. The firm actually earned nearly $1.2 million for its work, with the rest coming from the Association of Washington Business and the Association of Beer and Wine Wholesalers through direct contributions to pay for signature gathering.

On July 11, 2012, four days after Eyman turned in I-1185 petitions with 320,000 signatures, Citizen Solutions wired $308,000 to Eyman through his for-profit company, Watchdog for Taxpayers.

Sipe said William Agazarm of Citizen Solutions approved the payment to Eyman, knowing the money would be used to support the effort to qualify I-517 for which signatures were being gathered. The state contends Eyman understood the purpose of the money and broke the law when he concealed it.

Sipe said Eyman kept about $100,000 of the payment for his personal living expenses. That same month Eyman loaned $190,000 to Citizens in Charge, a Virginia organization that supports initiatives around the country. The group wound up spending $182,000 to underwrite the cost of gathering signatures for I-517.

At the time he filed the lawsuit, Ferguson said: “Taking kickbacks from contractors, using campaign funds for personal expenses, redirecting donations made for one initiative to a different initiative — it’s hard to imagine what more Mr. Eyman could have done to show his contempt for our campaign finance disclosure laws.”

Sanders offered the court a different interpretation.

Eyman created a company, Tim Eyman Watchdog for Taxpayers, and had a three-year consulting agreement with Citizen Solutions in which he would be paid to help find new clients. The $308,000 came out of the firm’s profits for Initiative 1185, he said.

Eyman loaned the money to Citizens in Charge because he wanted to help the Virginia organization achieve its goals and viewed it as a possible future client for himself, as well as Citizen Solutions, Sanders said.

In a 2014 deposition, Eyman said he didn’t know that the leader of the group, Paul Jacob, intended to use the money to support I-517.

The state will continue to present its case Tuesday.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos

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