OLYMPIA — Initiative promoter Tim Eyman’s latest political misdeeds are going to cost him a bundle of money for a very long time.
On Friday, a Thurston County judge ordered Eyman to pay the state $2.9 million to cover the cost of its legal pursuit of the anti-tax activist for multiple violations of Washington campaign finance laws.
The sum awarded by Superior Court Judge James Dixon covers attorney fees and litigation costs racked up since Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the civil lawsuit against Eyman in 2017.
That amount is on top of a $2.6 million civil penalty Dixon levied in February after a multi-day trial in which he concluded the former Mukilteo resident illegally moved money between unrelated initiative campaigns in 2012, engineered a $308,000 kickback from a signature-gathering firm involved in those initiatives and failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions. Eyman now lives in Bellevue.
When added up, Eyman owes $5.5 million in fines. Under an existing court-ordered schedule, Eyman is paying the state $10,000 a month, which will increase to $13,500 in 2022. At that rate, it will take in the neighborhood of 33 years to finish paying.
“Tim Eyman broke the law — repeatedly — and in order to delay his day of reckoning, he willfully dragged out this case with frivolous and cost-inflating litigation tactics,” Ferguson said in a statement. “This decision ensures that Tim Eyman bears the cost of his years-long obstruction of our case — not the taxpayers.”
Eyman reacted with disgust Friday.
“The judge rubber-stamped the AG again,” begins a fundraising email.
Later, in a radio interview with talk show host Dori Monson, Eyman renewed his argument that Ferguson’s team “jacked up their costs as much as they possibly could because the hope was that it would destroy me and I would never actually make it to trial. And just because literally thousands of people ended up helping me with my legal defense fund, I was at least able to get over the finish line, scraping and scratching and clawing.”
Barring an appeal — which Eyman vowed to pursue Friday — this should close the book on a saga that 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.
That prompted a three-year probe by the commission staff. 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, a signature-gathering firm, 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. He filed his lawsuit March 31, 2017, and it crept along as Eyman continually resisted turning over documents. As of November, Eyman had been fined several hundred thousand dollars for contempt violations.
Last month, state attorneys filed a request to recoup costs. It showed that seven attorneys and staff spent 9,899.71 hours on the case. They billed at hourly rates ranging from $123 to $408, adding up to $2.8 million. Sheets with itemized billings for each person were filed.
A decision on the fees had been set for March 11, but attorney Seth Goodstein, Eyman’s lawyer, asked for and received additional time to review the billings.
Meanwhile, in addition to the financial penalties, Dixon in February also imposed restrictions on Eyman’s role in future ballot measure campaigns.
Reporter Jerry Cornfield: firstname.lastname@example.org | @dospueblos