Initiative profiteer Tim Eyman has once against been busted for serious violations of Washington State’s public disclosure laws.
Staff at the Public Disclosure Commission — Washington’s equivalent of the Federal Elections Commission — have finished investigating a complaint filed by NPI partner Washingtonians For Ethical Government several weeks ago which alleges that Eyman and his associates violated RCW 42.17A when they launched a series of ads against the majority of Washington State’s Democratic lawmakers in April.
Their verdict? Eyman and his associates broke the law. Again.
RCW Chapter 42.17A requires that any person or entity that independently spends at least $1,000 supporting or opposing any candidate for state/local office report the expenditure to the PDC, and identify its target. Independent expenditure advertising must also contain certain disclosures, including the statement, “No candidate authorized this ad. It is paid for by (name, city, state)”.
When Eyman decided to launch an ad campaign attacking the Democratic lawmakers who defied his demands for a constitutional amendment to sabotage our state’s majority vote requirement for legislation, he failed to follow the rules, once again demonstrating his contempt for our citizen-created campaign finance laws.
The ads collectively cost $45,318, and appear to have financed principally by Eyman’s wealthy benefactors Clyde Holland and Kenneth Fisher, who each donated $22,500 to the Eyman-controlled PAC that paid for the ads to be produced.
A few weeks following the launch of the ads, after Eyman had failed to take any corrective action, Washingtonians For Ethical Government (which I sit on the board of) notified Attorney General Bob Ferguson and King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg of its intent to bring a lawsuit against Eyman on behalf of the state if they did not commence action against Eyman within fifty-five days.
Ferguson’s office referred the matter to the Public Disclosure Commission and the PDC opened an investigation. Around the same time, Eyman took down the ads and their accompanying website. Now it appears the PDC will be sending the matter back to Ferguson with a request to prosecute. Here’s the PDC staff’s findings:
Investigative Findings and Conclusion
Based on the factors identified in the investigation, staff found and concluded as follows:
Bring Back Our $30 Car Tabs – VMWC – 2016 filed a C‑4 Summary, Full Report of Receipts and Expenditures on April 11, 2016, disclosing more than $45,000 in expenditures paid in March of 2016 to sponsor 21 Web videos that opposed 49 candidates for state legislative office. The initial C‑4 did not disclose that the purpose of the expenditures was to oppose a candidate for office, as required by RCW 42.17A.240(6) and WAC 390–16-037(1), and did not describe the expenses as independent expenditures. That purpose and description was first disclosed 44 days late, on an amended C‑4 report filed on May 25, 2016.
Based on the pro-rated value of these communications per candidate, it appears that ten of the 21 videos at issue met the statutory definition of “independent expenditure.” Per RCW 42.17A.320(4) these ten videos were required to include the “No candidate authorized this ad” disclaimer; the sponsor’s name, city and state; and accurate “Top 5 contributors” information.
The sponsor ID statement in the videos contained an abbreviated version of the sponsor’s name (“Voters Want More Choices”) but did not contain the committee’s city or state. The videos also did not include the statement “No candidate authorized this ad.” Finally, the videos listed incorrect “Top 5 Contributors” information.
C‑1pc Political Committee Registrations currently on file for Bring Back Our $30 Car Tabs – VMWC – 2016 indicate the committee’s sole purpose is to support Initiative 1421 in the 2016 general election. The committee’s C‑1pc registrations do not identify any candidate that the committee will support or oppose.
Although the issue was not raised in the Citizen Action Notice, within ten days of sponsoring the committee’s March 28, 2016 expenditures to oppose a candidate, or to support a ballot proposition other than I‑1421, Bring Back Our $30 Car Tabs – VMWC – 2016 was required under RCW 42.17A.205(4) to file an amended C‑1pc indicating the committee’s updated purpose. This amendment, due no later than April 7, 2016, is 89 days late as of the date of this executive summary.
Finally, in their Citizen Action Notice, the complainants did not make a specific allegation concerning any alleged failure by Bring Back Our $30 Car Tabs – VMWC – 2016 to file C‑6 Independent Expenditure reports. Nevertheless, PDC staff reviewed a possible C‑6 filing requirement for the political committee, and found no such requirement under any of the relevant statutory provisions: RCW 42.17A.255, RCW 42.17A.260, and RCW 42.17A.305.
For the reasons described above, staff recommends that the Commission find multiple apparent violations of RCW 42.17A.205, RCW 42.17A.240, and RCW 42.17A.320, and recommend to the Washington Attorney General that that office take appropriate action concerning the apparent failure of Bring Back Our $30 Car Tabs – VWMC – 2016 and its officers Tim Eyman, Jack Fagan, Mike Fagan, and Barbara Smith to supplement the committee’s political committee registration by disclosing updated information, its failure to disclose expenses incurred to oppose candidates for legislative office in a complete and timely manner, and its failure to include complete and accurate sponsor identification and contributor information in the committee’s independent expenditure political advertising.
The Public Disclosure Commission is slated to hear the above-excerpted staff report at a meeting this Friday, where it will likely vote to accept the recommendation to send the matter to Attorney General Bob Ferguson for further action.
Ferguson’s office is already investigating Eyman for serious violations of RCW 42.17A committed during the last presidential election cycle in 2012, and attempting to ascertain if the law was violated during other time periods. Judges in Snohomish and Thurston Superior Courts have signed off on orders requested by the Attorney General to enforce subpoenas issued months ago as part of that investigation, which Tim Eyman and his associates were refusing to comply with.
Eyman and company have until next Wednesday to turn over the documents the Attorney General wants. If they don’t, they could be held in contempt of court.
Within a few days, it looks like the AG will have a second set of Chapter 42.17A violations committed by Eyman to prosecute. And there could be more on the way.
Eyman is in unquestionably in a world of legal trouble — and deservedly so.
For far too long, Eyman has operated as though the law simply doesn’t apply to him. He has been active in Washington politics for about two decades now, and he should know what the rules are and how to follow them. He also has the money to afford a first-rate treasurer. Yet his pattern of incomplete reporting, delinquent filing, concealment, and sloppy recordkeeping has continued unabated.
Eyman’s contempt for our public disclosure laws cannot be tolerated. It’s time for Eyman and his associates to be held accountable and to pay a steep price for their lawbreaking. We commend the staff of the Public Disclosure Commission for swiftly wrapping up this investigation and for recommending this matter be referred to Attorney General Bob Ferguson for further action.