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caption: In this file photo from 2018, anti-tax activist Tim Eyman holds a news conference after dropping off petitions for his last car tab reduction ballot measure.
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In this file photo from 2018, anti-tax activist Tim Eyman holds a news conference after dropping off petitions for his last car tab reduction ballot measure.
Credit: Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Tim Eyman fakes 'Recall Durkan' petitions, ticking off the real Recall campaign

There's an effort underway to recall Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. Signature gathering hasn't started yet, while the state Supreme Court decides whether it can go forward.

But some fake petitions are already circulating. The person behind them is longtime initiative promoter Tim Eyman, who recently ran for governor and failed to make it through the primary.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Melissa Santos covers politics for Crosscut. She told me what Eyman has been up to.

At some point during his campaign for Governor, Tim Eyman started sending out links to a kind of real-looking petition to recall the Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. He gave speeches acting as if he launched it, but he actually has nothing really to do with it at this point, at least not in the minds of the people actually running the campaign to recall the mayor.

We know Tim Eyman is no fan of Jenny Durkan. The folks from the real recall Durkan campaign say Eyman, through this effort, could end up disenfranchising voters who may actually want to sign the real petition. Can you explain how that could happen?

There is a law in Washington state that says you cannot knowingly sign the same recall petition twice. It actually says that on any recall petition, that when you sign it you are attesting that you have not signed it more than once.

The fear is, from the people who are running the real recall campaign, that when they distribute the real recall petitions, people will think they've already signed it, and either just think they don't have to sign, or think it would be a crime to actually sign the real petition.

From what you can tell, why is Tim Eyman doing this?

It is very hard to sometimes explain Tim Eyman. He is somewhat inscrutable, sometimes, but he does things to promote himself. That is kind of the common theme with Tim Eyman. I've written a lot about him over time. In this case, he certainly was using his speeches about recalling the mayor to promote his campaign for governor.

Most of this was happening in the weeks leading up to the August 4 primary. That kind of makes sense, right? He was sending out all these email blasts saying he was spearheading this recall effort to kind of bolster his bona fides with people who don't like Durkan, especially outside of Seattle. But the thing was, he didn't actually take the petition down until yesterday. It was still live, and people could download it, and distribute it. That was the concern of the recall campaign.

And these folks who are running the actual campaign to recall Mayor Durkan, what kinds of steps are they taking to stop Eyman from moving ahead with this?

They sent him a cease and desist letter, just saying you need to stop or we will take some sort of legal action. They say he's infringing upon their copyright as one of the many things they say he's doing improperly. He has not responded to them directly.

They also filed a complaint with the state public disclosure commission, which regulates campaign finance violations in our state, saying Eyman was breaking campaign finance laws. They actually also forwarded their concerns to the attorney general's office. The attorney general is suing Eyman right now over a ton of campaign finance violations that are alleged, but also seem like there's some wrongdoing there, I think it's fair to say. So, they're pursuing every avenue they can to try and get him into disassociate himself with their campaign to recall the mayor.

Is what Tim Eyman is doing actually legal?

I have some questions about that. I haven't gotten a firm word from the attorney general's office about that. There are laws against deceptively getting people to sign documents. Specifically related to recall petitions, there are some rules and law that says you can't deceptively use corrupt practices to interfere with a recall petition. The real recall campaign thinks Eyman has crossed that line.

In the meantime, there's more chaos, and more headlines for Tim Eyman. You reached out to him for comment. What did he tell you?

Eyman told me that this is protected free speech, and that he is absolutely allowed to do what he did with the recall campaign, saying he supports removing the mayor. His attorney said something similar. Basically, he said this was just an effort to get publicity by the Recall Durkan campaign, and he called their complaint a ‘nothing burger,’ so he doesn't think they have a legitimate gripe with what he's done.

The state Supreme Court is expected to rule next month on whether the effort to recall Mayor Durkan will be allowed to move forward.