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Sunday, September 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Vestal: Tim Eyman’s financial deals all too familiar

Shawn Vestal (Dan Pelle / DAN PELLE)
Shawn Vestal (Dan Pelle / DAN PELLE)

When state elections officials released their scathing conclusions last week about Tim Eyman’s financial shell game, it raised a very specific Spokane question: Was Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan aware that a lot of the money he helped to raise in 2012 for an initiative was routed elaborately and secretly to Eyman?

Fagan isn’t letting on. All he would agree to say this week in a brief written statement was, “My attention is focused on the mission of campaigning for the passage of (current initiative) I-1366 and not the man.” As for what he did or didn’t know, as an officer of the organization that stands accused of trying to hide Eyman’s behind-the-back payments three years ago, he’s not saying. Nor is Eyman or Eyman’s attorney.

For the sake of argument, let’s presume that Fagan – Spokane’s champion of vaccine denial and conservative critic of library story time – was completely, totally unaware of these creative maneuvers.

He shouldn’t have been.

Thirteen years ago, Eyman was caught doing essentially the same thing – self-dealing, enriching himself with campaign funds, and breaking election rules. Don’t take my word for it. Take Eyman’s. He admitted at the time that it was “the biggest lie of my life” when he had claimed he hadn’t profited through the initiative business.

He said he had lied “to have a way to cover the fact that I was making money sponsoring initiatives, and none of my co-sponsors knew that was the case.” He was assessed $55,000 in penalties and banned permanently from serving as a financial officer for any political committee.

The new investigation, released last week by the state Public Disclosure Commission, paints a damning portrait of Eyman’s methods since then, but he makes a similar claim: that his partners in the initiative business, including Fagan, didn’t know what he was up to.

It’s a lot not to know. Reading the 224-page PDC report leaves one unable to decide which detail is the slimiest.

But boil it down to this: The violations were, in the opinions of investigators, so serious that the PDC lacks sufficient punishments. Investigators turned the case over to the attorney general, suggesting criminal charges.

Or boil it down to this: Eyman allegedly took money that people donated to support one initiative, paid himself handsomely and put some of that money behind another initiative intended to expand his lucrative initiative business and obscured the fact in his public reports.

Or boil it down to this: Eyman’s machine spent a lot of time calculating the dollar value of an initiative signature. On average, it was $1 for the person gathering the signature under a 2012 agreement. That $1 “street price” – in the words of one contractor – went up when more signatures were gathered.

Or boil it down to this: Eyman has received almost $2 million in reported payments through the initiative business since 1998. Investigators believe this is an incomplete figure. One of the people he has paid to gather signatures told them that he made intermittent payments to Eyman of between $5,000 and $100,000 since 2004. None of these were “disclosed in any manner,” and Eyman wouldn’t answer questions about them.

Eyman’s attorney, Mark Lamb, said in a written statement that investigators have omitted and mischaracterized evidence. “To this day, my client believes all required information was reported,” he wrote.

The key transaction in the report involves the 2012 election. A political committee for which Eyman and Mike and Jack Fagan are officers, Voters Want More Choices, raised money to support Initiative 1185, which was meant to restore the two-thirds majority for tax increases in the Legislature. The Fagans kept the committee’s records in Spokane, Eyman told investigators.

Voters Want More Choices signed a $1 million deal with a contractor for signature gathering, Citizen Solutions. Almost two-thirds of this came from Voters Want More Choices, and other payments came directly from large business groups.

Eyman then asked Citizens Solutions for some of that money back, ostensibly as a payment for future business. Citizen Solutions wired him $308,000 – about half of what Voters Want More Choices had paid them. This payment went to one of Eyman’s companies, called Tim Eyman, Watchdog for Taxpayers, LLC, which then made $200,000 in payments to an LLC in Virginia. Eyman called these payments loans, of which he said there was no written record.

Investigators say the Virginia LLC improperly used the money to gather signatures for I-517, a measure to make it easier to gather signatures. Those efforts were then reported to state regulators as in-kind contributions – as labor simply volunteered – to another Eyman political committee, Protect Your Right to Vote on Initiatives.

Oh, and Eyman also used about $170,000 of the money raised by Voters Want More Choices for personal and family expenses, the PDC said. The committee’s legally required campaign finance reports, were filed in such a way as to “effect concealment” of all this.

Got that straight? Yeah, me neither.

It’s very confusing, so it’s understandable if some of us are confused. But none of us – and especially Mike Fagan – should be at all surprised.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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