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OLYMPIA (AP) — The state Public Disclosure Commission is looking into initiative king Tim Eyman's request that his backers send him money for a legal defense fund.

The solicitation, first reported last Friday in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, asks for checks of as much as $1,000 to be sent to "Tim Eyman, Taxpayer Advocate" at his home in Mukilteo.

The letter to his supporters said donations would not be made public because they are for a legal defense fund, not political donations. He said Monday he is scrupulously following the law, and is using the donations to pay off "extraordinary legal expenses from last year."

Eyman got in hot water last year for diverting campaign contributions to a personal salary fund without proper reporting to the PDC. As part of a settlement with the state, Eyman agreed to a lifetime ban on serving as treasurer for his initiatives.

On Monday, Eyman critic Steve Zemke filed a formal complaint with the watchdog agency, calling Eyman's e-mail solicitation "a pretty transparent effort to allow campaign funds to be sent directly to him without being disclosed to the public."

Zemke said Eyman has donated consulting services valued at more than $30,000 so far to his latest initiative, I-807, which would tighten state spending limits and make it harder to raise taxes.

In an e-mail to the commission, Zemke raised the question about whether the solicitations will go into Eyman's pocket.

"Is this no more than some little trick? He can once again appear as if he is generously donating his time to campaign work without asking payment for services."

Susan Harris, assistant PDC director, said the panel already had begun an informal inquiry.

"We received a copy of Mr. Eyman's letter and we're looking to see if there is a problem," she said in an interview. "If it is a legitimate legal defense fund, we wouldn't have a concern, but if he was using it to subsidize his living expenses so he could continue his campaign work, we might have a concern."

Eyman said he was following the rules.

"All public disclosure rules and laws have been meticulously followed by me since February 2002," Eyman said. "When you know the sharks are watching, you're very careful."

Eyman gave a similar plea for financial help last year, when he and the Permanent Offense campaign organization had heavy legal bills. He has told reporters he isn't drawing a salary until and unless I-807 makes the ballot. He has until early July to gather about 200,000 valid signatures.

Eyman says if the measure qualifies for the November ballot, he and his co-chairmen Mike and Jack Fagan of Spokane intend to ask supporters to pay them a salary. Jack Fagan told the P-I he didn't know about Eyman's latest personal fund-raising pitch and had no comment on whether it competes with I-807 for funds.

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Another longtime Eyman critic, Democratic consultant Christian Sinderman, said Eyman appears to be defying the PDC's warning last year about legal funds not being used for personal expenses.

"He clearly has no current legal expenses," Sinderman said. "Also, he says in the letter that `if you like what you have seen' to send him a check. That is clearly a violation of the intent of legal fund solicitations."

Meanwhile, state Rep. Geoff Simpson, D-Covington, e-mailed Eyman's backers a hotly worded commentary on "that modern snake oil salesman, Tim Eyman."

"He wants you, his `thousands' of supporters to send him a `gift' so he can make the Lexus payment," Simpson wrote. "Express your extreme displeasure and tell him to get off his ass and get a job."

Eyman said he thought Simpson's comments were hilarious, and wrong.

Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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