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Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

Unhappy pals of Tim Eyman sue for breach of contract after getting conned themselves

Two men with longtime ties to disgraced initiative promoter Tim Eyman filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court yesterday against proponents of Initiative 1000 (Washington’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Act) alleging breach of contract after having not been paid for their work on the I-1000 signature drive last year.

Enacted by the Washington State Legislature on April 28th, 2019, I-1000 is on hold until voters decide its fate this November. It’s on the ballot as Referendum 88. A vote to Approve Referendum 88 is a vote to uphold I-1000 and a vote to Reject Referendum 88 is a vote to repeal I-1000 and leave the status quo in place.

The aforementioned men each control companies that are integral to the operation of Grover Norquist clone Tim Eyman’s initiative factory.

Roy Ruffino of Lacey is the man behind “Citizen Solutions”, the prime contractor for Eyman’s signature drives, while Brent Johnson of Spokane, the man behind Your Choice Pettions, LLC is one of Ruffino’s subcontractors.

Through his company Citizen Solutions, Roy Ruffino was sued by the State of Washington as part of its major campaign finance enforcement lawsuit against Tim Eyman. A default judgment was recently approved against Citizen Solutions and the State is now seeking a penalty of more than $1 million from the firm and the men who control it (Ruffino and William Agazarm).

Eyman, meanwhile, continues to rack up contempt sanctions for his violation of court-issued discovery orders ahead of next summer’s trial.

Subcontractor Brent Johnson is no stranger to trouble, either. According to a background check obtained by NPI, Johnson has been convicted of a number of crimes, including… get this… forgery. That’s right, forgery. A convicted forger is one of Washington’s most prolific signature gathering crew chiefs.

What could possibly go wrong?

In this case, Ruffino and Johnson got burned by inexplicably deciding to undertake a project for Jesse Wineberry, a well-connected former state legislator.

That project was Initiative 1000.

As I alluded to above, I-1000 was written to supersede Tim Eyman’s I-200, the state’s decades-old ban on affirmative action, which was adopted in 1998.

Ruffino and Johnson not only agreed to run the signature drive for I-1000, they agreed to do it on spec. Meaning, instead of insisting on being provided cash upfront as a condition of undertaking the drive, they collected signatures based on the promise of future repayment, which is pretty much unheard of in the industry.

I-1000 was written to explicitly permit state agencies and institutions of higher learning to conduct outreach to disadvantaged communities and historically underrepresented groups, while continuing to prohibit the use of quotas.

Naturally, Tim Eyman is opposed to I-1000. That’s what makes Ruffino and Johnson’s involvement so strange. Eyman is Ruffino’s principal client and I-200 was the first measure that Eyman sponsored that made it to the ballot and got past the voters. I-200 is thus very special to Eyman.

However, Eyman hasn’t uttered a word of condemnation against Ruffino (at least not that we’re aware of) for what would appear to be a major betrayal.

I-1000 is fiercely opposed by Eyman, talk show host John Carlson (who helmed the I-200 campaign during its latter stages), and an archconservative Asian American group disingenuously called “WA Asians For Equality”.

Were it not for Ruffino and Johnson and their crews, I-1000 would not have qualified as an initiative to the Legislature earlier this year. Jesse Wineberry’s efforts to qualify a measure to amend I-200 would have run aground.

Ruffino’s lawyer Mark Lamb (who also used to represent Eyman) told NPR’s Austin Jenkins that Ruffino believed Wineberry would be good for the money because three former governors (Dan Evans, Gary Locke, and Chris Gregoire) had endorsed the campaign and were serving as its honorary co-chairs.

I don’t buy that for a second. Ruffino and Johnson are con artists operating in a shady, largely unregulated industry that runs on cash.

Why on Earth would they agree to do work for a political adversary of their primary client who did not possess the money to pay them?

It’s rather something to witness con men get conned by a con man.

Then again, birds of a feather do tend to flock together.

Nine months after Jesse Wineberry’s One Equality Washington campaign turned in signatures for I-1000 — an event that featured Ruffino — Citizen Solutions and its subcontractors have still not been paid in full by Wineberry’s operation.

In fact, they’ve barely received any money from Wineberry at all.

Meanwhile, Wineberry and his group have been spending their limited cash on hand on other priorities. Like a television ad promoting I-1000, which cost several thousand dollars to produce. Or the repeated reimbursement of travel expenses to Wineberry — nearly five thousand dollars’ worth.

After nine months, with Wineberry having made no appreciable progress towards retiring the debt he owes them, Ruffino and Johnson have decided to go to court. But they’re not just suing Wineberry’s One Equality Washington campaign. Nope. They’re also going after Wineberry’s other I-1000 committee (Approve I-1000) and the Washington Fairness Coalition, which Wineberry has no involvement in.

The Washington Fairness Coalition is the campaign that is coming together in defense of I-1000 on a policy basis, as opposed to defending the campaign that qualified I-1000 (Wineberry’s One Equality Washington). The coalition has no association with OEW and did not even exist at the time that Ruffino agreed to undertake the I-1000 signature drive for Wineberry. It’s just several weeks old.

Nonetheless, it is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Why? Because Ruffino and Johnson are desperate. They want to be paid per the agreement they had with Wineberry, but Wineberry doesn’t have the money to pay them, and they know it. So they’re hoping to wrangle money out of the Washington Fairness Coalition and its donors instead.

The coalition had this to say about the situation last week, in a statement issued on Friday, September 13th, following its Seattle kickoff event:

The Washington Fairness Campaign believes that individuals who gathered signatures for I-1000 should be compensated for their work. The person responsible for this payment is their employer, Roy Ruffino and his company, Citizen Solutions. Our campaign leadership, co-chairs, or donors were not privy to, or signatories to, any fiduciary arrangements including wages, payment schedule, or deficit spending between Mr. Ruffino, the signature gatherers he hired, and his client.

We stand aligned with any working person who deserves to be paid. We urge Roy Ruffino and other responsible parties to make good on commitments made to these contracted employees. We will remain focused on approval of this important law for all working people.

The Washington Fairness Coalition will, I imagine, be filing a motion to be dismissed as a defendant from this lawsuit rather promptly.

Ruffino is in no position to make good on his commitments and likely wouldn’t be even if Wineberry suddenly paid him in full. That’s because, as mentioned, the State of Washington is seeking to exact a major penalty from him over his complicity in Tim Eyman’s blatant violations of our public disclosure laws.

Here’s the State’s motion to impose a penalty on Citizen Solutions, filed in Thurston County Superior Court last month.

The State is seeking $150,000 from Citizen Solutions, $150,000 from Ruffino’s partner William Agazarm, and $752,891.97 “jointly and severally” from both defendants. That’s over $1 million in all.

State's motion against Citizen Solutions for default judgment penalties

What a tangled mess, eh?

Last year, NPI was invited by Jesse Wineberry and his associates to become involved in the effort to qualify I-1000. We declined, however, owing to our concerns about funding and transparency — the same concerns that prompted other people Wineberry had approached to quit working with him. We did not endorse the campaign, gather signatures, or provide resources.

When we found out that Wineberry was working with Ruffino, we investigated and shared our grave concerns with other advocates for diversity and inclusion.

At no point did Wineberry offer an explanation for his indefensible decision to do business with Roy Ruffino and Citizen Solutions.

The treasurer hired by Wineberry to handle the One Equality Committee’s books referred our inquiries to Wineberry; but Wineberry never responded.

After I-1000 qualified, we urged the Legislature to adopt the measure, and the House and Senate did so. Now I-1000 is before voters anyway because it has been subjected to a referendum. NPI is urging an “Approved” vote on Referendum 88/Initiative 1000. If you are interested in joining with us in the effort to uphold Washington’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Act, be sure that your contributions — whether they be time, talent, or treasure — go to the Washington Fairness Coalition, and not to either of Jesse Wineberry’s campaign committees.

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