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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Stunned Eyman loses fight against possible ban on managing money for campaigns

OLYMPIA – Tim Eyman, flanked by Spokane residents Jack Fagan, left and Mike Fagan, right, turn in petitions for a legislative initiative to limit car tabs to $30 to the Secretary of State in January. Eyman, who was in court Friday, faces a civil suit that he improperly used campaign contributions over the years. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Tim Eyman could be barred for life from the financial aspects of future campaigns if he loses a long-running legal battle with the state over past campaign activity, a judge said Friday.

In what Eyman called “a gut punch,” Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon rejected the embattled initiative booster’s request to take a lifetime ban off the table at this point in the state’s civil case. That’s a decision for later — after the state gets a chance to present evidence at a trial, the judge said.

“It would be wrong to make such a ruling now,” Dixon said. “The court cannot rule on what the court might do in the event the state has carried its burden.”

Eyman, who is not an attorney but was representing himself, had asked for a partial summary judgment that such a ban would be a violation of his First Amendment rights of political free speech.

“Money is speech,” Eyman argued Friday. A Kitsap County supporter of his initiatives to keep car tabs at $30 willed him $91,000 to continue his work on ballot measures, he said, but the executor of the estate is refusing to release the money because the state’s civil case hangs over his head.

“That’s $91,000 of speech that I would be able to use in the political arena,” he said.

Eyman is working on several initiatives, including the $30 car tab measure headed for the November ballot.

But Eric Newman, chief litigation counsel in the attorney general’s Antitrust Division, argued there are legal precedents for such a ban, which wouldn’t keep Eyman from spending his own money. A ban the state might ask Dixon to issue at the trial would only keep Eyman from managing money from a political action committee, or spending it without the approval of someone else in the PAC.

“He can talk all he wants,” Newman said. “There’s nothing that would keep him from associating with like-minded people.”

In a recent court filing, Newman laid out some details of the state’s case against Eyman. They include allegations that he received kickbacks from companies his political action committees hired to collect signatures for various initiative efforts. The filings also allege that he didn’t report those payments to the Public Disclosure Commission and kept them secret from others connected to those campaigns, including Mike Fagan – a two-term Spokane city councilman – and Jack Fagan of Spokane, who are officers with Eyman in the Voters Want More Choices PAC.

Eyman suggested the ban should be rejected right now as an unconstitutional prior restraint. It would be like telling a newspaper it couldn’t publish any stories because it had published one story with a mistake in it, he said.

Newman countered that it wasn’t a prior restraint because the ban would be based on past behavior, just as someone can be the subject of an anti-harassment order that keeps them from talking to person in the future because they have made threats in the past. Newman also used the example of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater not being part of free speech, contending Eyman has been shouting “Fire!” in the theater for 20 years.

Although the state laid out allegations of Eyman’s illegal behavior in its filings for the hearing, Eyman didn’t offer any arguments or rebuttals for those allegations, Newman added.

Dixon said when Eyman asked last month for a hearing on whether the state was entitled to seek a lifetime ban, he was warned such a decision was premature. Nothing in the briefs filed since then or the arguments Eyman offered Friday changed the fact that a decision isn’t “ripe,” the judge said in denying the request.

In the hallway after the hearing, Eyman — who had sent emails to his supporters asking for them to pray for him, as well as donate to a current initiative — seemed stunned by the decision.

“I literally couldn’t conceive of how this couldn’t go my direction,” he said. As for why he didn’t try to rebut the state’s allegations in his brief, Eyman replied: “I think everything they’re alleging is just crap.”