Toothless watchdog

The state missed initiative guru Tim Eyman's money games.

IF THE DAY COMES that initiative guru Tim Eyman has to stand before a state tribunal and officially concede he's a lying, cheatin' fool, should the state's election watchdog—the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC)—stand with him, copping its own plea?

"What's so disappointing about this whole thing," says Seattle attorney Knoll Lowney, a longtime Eyman opponent, "is that the PDC took so long to take action even though the scam was obvious all along."

For most of two years, Eyman, currently accused of breaking state campaign-disclosure laws, deftly shuffled political donations between four accounts—campaign, corporate, household, and a second business account (a wristwatch-sales business)—that were all run out of his Mukilteo home.

Somebody's $50 political donation could thus be churned into gas money for Eyman's home errands. To Eyman, it was a quiet way of paying himself for his campaign work—something he hadn't told donors he was doing.

But instead of reining him in, state public-disclosure laws and practices became Eyman's accomplices. He could disclose apparently all that was asked of him in public records and still pocket funds without raising official eyebrows.

Unlike with the campaign fund (called Permanent Offense), Eyman was not automatically required to disclose spending details for the corporate fund (whose title differs by only one word—Permanent Offense Inc.). That allowed him to quietly play around with donations ever since incorporating Permanent Offense Inc. in February 2000.

He felt then, and now, that he was following the law, since there is nothing on the books stating that he must announce to donors how their money is spent—and the PDC wasn't complaining.

From 2000 through 2001, Eyman replenished one fund from another as the state's watchdog, along with the Fourth Estate, played lapdogs. In February this year, after the Post-Intelligencer reported on the transfers to the corporate account, Eyman caved, admitting he lied and that he'd taken funds from that account for personal use and to pay his salary.

All things came to a head last week when the PDC and the state attorney general charged Eyman, braggart king of anti-tax initiatives, with misappropriating at least $54,000 in campaign funds.

The I-Man's wrongful spending allegedly included paying for repair work done on his Lexus and using donations to prop up his wristwatch business, says the PDC. Barring a settlement, he faces costly fines and penalties if the PDC's findings are sustained and the attorney general prevails in a civil action.

But it was Tim Eyman who collared Tim Eyman—first by not reporting that he was paying himself a deserved salary from the campaign, and second for blurting out that he was taking the money anyway, since the state may have never noticed.

"This is the biggest, ugliest, stupidest spectacle. God, I just feel like an ass," he said in his February mea culpa.

He allowed that while perhaps no laws were broken, a public trust had been. He admitted that his corporation was paid $200,000 from the campaign fund. Some of the money was used for consulting expenses, some remained in the bank; $45,000 he spent on "household stuff," Eyman said.

The jig, thus, was up. But why wasn't it up in 2000, when the campaign (Eyman) paid his consulting firm (Eyman) $36,323? Or last year, when Eyman paid Eyman $165,490?

In 2001, Spokane's Spokesman-Review revealed that Eyman had shifted $82,000 and then $100,000 into his corporate fund. An Associated Press story at the time quoted initiative opponent Christian Sinderman as saying Eyman was "literally laundering money."

Though that was much the same information that would later bring Eyman down and set the PDC into action, PDC officials back then were saying it seemed kosher to them. Only days before Eyman's confessional, the oversight agency expressed no concern.

In a January 31 interview with Seattle Weekly, a PDC spokesperson said Eyman had recently "confirmed" that the corporate money properly remained in the bank and had not been wrongfully used. As long as the corporate account is used for political consulting on the campaign, then "we don't care beyond that," the PDC said.

Two years after the corporate funnel was established, and though serious accusations had been made about the transfers, the PDC was still taking Eyman's word on where the money went.

Once he publicly surrendered, the PDC quickly looked "beyond that" and found a lot of dollars flowing out the door. The state today says that money stream violated five laws, including the misuse and concealing of funds.

"It should have been a pretty big red flag all along," says Lowney. "You have two campaign organizations, with essentially the same name, shifting money around. We were asking about it long ago. Unfortunately, the PDC and the press took a long time to get moving."

randerson@seattleweekly.com

 
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