Just Open the Books, Tim

In a Special guest op-ed for The Seattle Times today, Steve Zemke, Director of Taxpayers for Washington’s Future, urged Eyman to open his books to the Public Disclosure Commission.

Spin master Tim Eyman is at it again. When confronted with questions regarding his various schemes to finance his political campaigns, Eyman claims to be a victim of government harassment. He again is throwing up a smokescreen and claims to be the poor victim of a “political witch hunt.” (“Government harassment won’t stop my tax fight” guest commentary, July 23.)

But let’s back up and look at the facts. Eyman is engaged in trying to influence and change government in Washington state. He has run numerous initiative campaigns and has raised lots of money. He has heavily lobbied the Legislature. By any definition of the word, he is engaged in political campaigns and lobbying.

In 1972, Washington voters passed Initiative 276, with over 72 percent of the vote, to create the Public Disclosure Commission. I-276 declared “that the public’s right to know of the financing of political campaigns and lobbying … far outweighs any right that these matters remain secret and private.”

Fast forward to last year. Eyman publicly admitted that he took over $200,000 for his salary from political campaign funds and lied on campaign-finance reports, saying he was not receiving any compensation for his work. In an Associated Press story on Feb. 5, 2002, he was quoted as saying, “This entire charade was set up so I could maintain a moral superiority over our opposition, so I could say our opponents make money from politics and I don’t.”

After investigation by the Public Disclosure Commission and the state Attorney General’s Office, Eyman signed a consent agreement rather than go to court. He agreed to a $55,000 fine and to never again be the treasurer of a campaign committee.

By now, one would think that Eyman would have gotten the message to be squeaky clean and avoid even the slightest appearance of violating campaign-disclosure laws.

However, that was not the case. In August of last year, Eyman sent out a personal fund-raising letter stating, “If you appreciate my past efforts and want to encourage me to continue, please send me a generous financial gift … made out to ‘Tim Eyman, Taxpayer Advocate’ ” — money that he said “will be used to help Tim Eyman resolve his current financial challenges.”

On Aug. 14, 2002, in The Olympian, Vicki Rippie, the executive director of the Public Disclosure Commission, responded, “If it were a candidate soliciting money, presumably for personal expenses so he could spend time campaigning, there’s no question that those would be perceived by everyone to be (campaign) contributions. This situation is analogous.”

Eyman assured the Public Disclosure Commission that the contributions were for legal expenses and continued to send out similar letters asking that checks be “made payable to ‘Tim Eyman, Taxpayer Advocate’ — to my home in Mukilteo.” In a small postscript, he then added that funds were for a legal-defense fund so contributors’ names would be anonymous.

In his Times guest commentary on Wednesday, Eyman publicly admitted that he deposited some $118,000 in contributions made out to Tim Eyman, Taxpayer Advocate, directly into his “personal savings account” and wrote checks from his “personal checking account” to pay expenses.

Amazingly there is no official “legal defense fund” registered with the state or the Internal Revenue Service; instead, all the money went into his personal bank account in his name. There is no board of directors or independent treasurer overseeing the funds. There are no bylaws or articles of incorporation or public disclosures. There is only Tim Eyman as de facto treasurer.

All the money is again under the control of Eyman to do with as he wants, which certainly flouts the spirit of his consent agreement with the attorney general. There is an appearance that something is not right.

At the same time Eyman was collecting tens of thousands of dollars in anonymous personal contributions, he reported donating some $42,770 of in-kind services to his failed Initiative 807 campaign. How is this possible? Is Eyman independently wealthy or is he trying to pull a shell game on the voters of this state? Is he again shuffling tens of thousands of dollars out of the public eye between campaign, business and personal accounts to further his political agenda and for personal gain while appearing to be working for free?

These are legitimate questions to ask based on his past multiple violations of the law. This is why I filed the official complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission that prompted its current investigation.

Now, if there isn’t any legal problem with how he has used the money or how it has been transferred around, why didn’t Eyman just open his personal records and get this issue quickly resolved? Eyman instead prefers to wage the battle in the media. Why not come clean, or is there something to hide?

With apologies to Shakespeare, methinks the gentleman doth protest too much.

Steve Zemke is a political activist and a veteran of numerous initiative campaigns. He heads up Taxpayers for Washington’s Future, a citizens’ tax reform organization.

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