Confessions of an anti-tax crusader

Tim Eyman lied about taking money from initiative campaigns.

TIM EYMAN'S extraordinary, emotional confession this week that he lied about taking money from his political campaigns is even more extraordinary considering that the taking was apparently legal, paying it back would have been confidential, and only he and his wife would ever know about it.

"Nobody's going to jail," said the jangled, wigged-out king of the initiatives at a Monday press conference/mea culpa at the Mukilteo post office—the scene of the heist of sorts, where his campaign funds rolled in.

So why fess up? He was riddled with guilt, said Eyman, drinking coffee from two cups as he admitted that $45,000 in campaign funds went into his household budget's "black hole"—which may also describe his once-soaring political star.

Nonetheless, on his own, Eyman seems to have clumsily confessed to a crime he didn't commit, and even to one he hadn't yet gotten around to not committing—his plan to take more money in the future.

Who's his campaign advisor, Willie Sutton?

No one seemed to realize that Eyman had already put $200,000 in his pocket, on the record and legitimately. And though he was publicly confronted by opponents last year for paying himself more than $100,000, he opted not to fall on his sword then.

This time, however, to the knowledge of only Eyman and his wife, he hadn't merely taken money—he had spent some, on himself.

No one would ever know. Yet he came clean. He says it was guilt, although the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), Seattle Weekly has learned, recently asked for a more complete accounting. That, by itself, may have prompted Eyman to pre-emptively reveal his third- account spending.

For the most part, the Tim-to-Tim- to-Tim money system was in plain sight. Campaign money flowed into his political action committee, Permanent Offense, which was born in 1999. He then paid himself for consulting, sending campaign money into the account of his for-profit corporation, Permanent Offense Inc., established two years ago with Eyman as chairman and his wife as treasurer.

Both accounts are run out of his Mukilteo home, where he also oversees a third, personal household account. With his hand on the three checkbooks, he can dole out campaign funds to himself and generally spend them at his whim, undetected.

He paid his consulting business $37,123 in 2000 and $165,492 through November of last year from his campaigns, public records show—a total of $202,615.

State officials say that's all perfectly legal. They also didn't care what he did with the money afterwards, although it generally should have been used to pay his consulting costs.

The 36-year-old anti-tax guru, who made his name in 1999 by successfully sponsoring I-695, the $30 car-tab initiative, has a list of 25,000 "grassroots taxpayers" who have donated from $5 to $10,000 to fight big government and unfair taxation. They gave $693,354, for example, to back I-747, passed last November to limit property-tax increases.

Eyman was under no legal obligation to inform donors that he was sending the campaign money to the corporate account or to explain how he was using it. He merely had to report it to the PDC, where it became public record.

But as Eyman has now revealed, he transferred $45,000 from his corporate account into his household account and spent it on household "stuff."

He had long told anyone who asked that the corporate account would always be used to fund future campaigns. That was thus his lie.

Eyman had voluntarily agreed to periodically tell the PDC how much was in the corporate account, without having to provide any proof (he says there's still $157,000 deposited, which he also planned to transfer to the household account for more "stuff").

"If the [campaign] money [in the corporate account] is used as purely consulting fees, we don't care," says Susan Harris of the PDC.

Spending it on household expenses—what Eyman's confession was all about—could be a misuse of the funds, although it's a gray enforcement area.

But thanks to his emotional squirming under the hot TV lights, Eyman willfully turned a debatable use of funds into a high crime that may be punishable by political death.

"This is the dumbest, stupidest thing I've done in my life," he said, referring to misleading his supporters. Some were dumbfounded, and others went for his jugular. Reaction on talk radio seemed to divide along the same lines as most of his anti-tax drives—liberal detractors and libertarian faithful. "He's got to [support] his lifestyle someway," said a defender on KOMO radio. "If that's the 'biggest lie of his life,'" countered a critic, "then what are his lesser lies!"

Christian Sinderman, who has opposed Eyman in past initiatives battles, says, "The cover-up and the lie [are] always worse than the deed," and predicted Eyman likely won't recover.

Eyman was even less kind to himself.

"This is the biggest, ugliest, stupidest spectacle. God, I just feel like an ass," he said. His thinking had been, "If I'm going to put in this amount of hours, I ought to be paid for it. I wanted my ego stroked."

Taking money "was never about need," said Eyman, who may be a millionaire, although the size of his debts are unclear. He operates a mail-order business, Insignia Corporation, which sells watches to sororities and fraternities and is also run from his $433,000 home at upscale Harbour Pointe golf club (taxes in 2000: $4,964). He also owns a $200,000 home near Green Lake.

Eyman says his biggest worry now is that "supporters will just take the petitions [for the two initiatives he introduced this year] and throw them in the garbage." And his own future? "It's not going to be up to me."

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