Tim Eyman

SEATTLE — Tim Eyman, the watch salesman-turned-antitax folk hero whose initiative campaigns have bedeviled state and local governments across Washington for decades, will no longer be allowed to have any financial control over political committees, under a judge’s ruling Wednesday that blasted him for using donor’s contributions to line his own pocket.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon also ordered Eyman to pay $2.6 million in penalties.

The ruling came in a 2017 lawsuit by Attorney General Bob Ferguson that accused Eyman of soliciting kickbacks, laundering donations and flouting campaign finance law in a long-running scheme to enrich himself.

The decision stands to significantly alter the Washington’s political landscape. For the past two-decades-plus, Eyman has been the state’s most prolific proponent of ballot measures and one of its most influential populists, frequently persuading voters to approve tax-limiting measures only to see them struck down by the state Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

For almost as long, Eyman has had a history of campaign finance violations. In 2002, following a report in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Eyman called an Associated Press reporter to make an emotional confession that he had been secretly paying himself with campaign contributions, despite insisting publicly that he had not been. At the time Eyman called it “the biggest lie of my life.”

The Public Disclosure Commission warned him then that he could not accept political contributions personally by characterizing them as “gifts,” and the following year a judge barred him from serving as the treasurer of any political committee.

Ferguson, a Democrat, sued Eyman in 2017, saying that Eyman subverted that ruling by continuing to act as treasurer even though someone else nominally held the position.

He also accused Eyman of taking a $308,000 kickback by overpaying the signature gathering firm Citizen Solutions, and having the company then purportedly hire him as a consultant.

Voters in 2019 approved Eyman’s most recent ballot measure, Initiative 976, which would have gutted transportation budgets throughout the state by severely cutting fees for car registrations. The state Supreme Court unanimously struck it down as unconstitutional.