By WARREN CORNWALL
Tim Eyman, the prolific initiative booster and political gadfly, has gone pro.
After running three initiative campaigns from his Mukilteo house and supporter’s homes, Eyman says he is about to look for office space and paid workers for future efforts. All under the umbrella of a for-profit company called Permanent Offense Inc.
But Eyman’s political organization, spearheaded by a for-profit business he owns, is raising questions among some.
Would Eyman use money donated to support initiatives to enrich himself?
Eyman says no, but Mike Powell, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union’s Legislative Council, questioned what would happen to initiative campaign contributions when the money is paid to an Eyman-owned for-profit business free of public oversight.
The bus drivers’ union fought Eyman’s Initiative 745, which voters rejected earlier this month.
"With it being a for-profit company, then the records are private. That’s convenient," Powell said.
Eyman, however, said the for-profit company was designed to ensure the campaigns remained aboveboard, and to continue pursuing his political goals beyond the life of any single initiative.
"We’re going to be criticized no matter what we do, and we have no problem with the operation we’ve set up. And I know for certain that doing it this way is going to enable us to do these initiatives on an ongoing basis," he said.
Eyman’s political organization has evolved from a single political action committee in 1999 to a network including three different parts this year.
Two PACs collected contributions and financed the campaigns for two Eyman initiatives on the November ballot — I-745 and Initiative 722.
Permanent Offense Inc. took it’s name from the PAC that promoted Initiative 722. The company in turn billed the two PAC’s for consulting work, accounting and database management, according to state campaign finance records. Those billings totaled roughly $60,000, according to reports filed so far.
Eyman said he created the company to handle administrative work like filing reports with the state and to "squirrel away enough money" so the office was no longer a voice mailbox.
He said any profits have been put back into the business, and none have gone directly to him. Eyman said he continues to make a living with a mail-order business that sells watches to fraternities.
"I get my expenses reimbursed. But I don’t need any (profits)," he said.
Eyman said he chose to make Permanent Offense a for-profit business because non-profits are subject to legal restrictions on their political activities. Rather than create a non-profit company and then seek loopholes in campaign laws like some other organizations do, Eyman said he preferred a for-profit business that could campaign unfettered.
The arrangement doesn’t appear to violate state campaign laws, said Shawn Newman, an Olympia attorney with the government watchdog group Citizens for Leaders With Ethics and Accountability Now. He compared it to industry associations or unions that spin off PACs to work on a particular campaign,
That would change, Newman said, if the for-profit Permanent Offense campaigned for a specific initiative instead of providing the infrastructure for Eyman’s agenda.
"If he has a for-profit entity that is there to cultivate potential ballot measures which have not been filed, then you can probably do it. The trigger is, are you supporting or opposing a ballot measure?" he said.
If that changed, Newman said, then Eyman would have to register the company as a political action committee with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.
The arrangement, however, worried Chuck Sauvage, executive director of Common Cause of Washington State, an organization promoting campaign finance reform. The organization arrangement could amount to a "shell game" that permits campaign money to be siphoned into a business shielded from public scrutiny and that could be put to personal use, he said.
"Money can just go from the PACs to Permanent Offense," he said.
The state Public Disclosure Commission hasn’t received any complaints about the arrangement, said spokesman Doug Ellis. The company may not have to register and file financial reports with the state, he said.
"If they (the PACS) are raising the funds and then hiring this consulting firm to do the work and reporting it, then that’s OK. If this for-profit company puts out solicitations, generates money to support or oppose candidates or ballot measures, then they have to register," he said.
Eyman at times compared his company to other political consulting firms. But at other moments his description skirted close to the kind of operations monitored by the state commission.
"The sole purpose of Permanent Offense is to promote the initiatives, the initiative ideas that we have," he said.
The for-profit company hasn’t raised any money from donations, Eyman said. Its earnings have come from work for his campaigns, he said. So far it hasn’t hired anyone, depending instead on volunteer efforts guided by Everett resident Suzanne Karr, he said.
But that, he said, will change soon with a move to an office staffed with hired help.
"The evolution of Permanent Offense is trying to make it where it’s going professional," he said.
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