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Attorney for secretive pro-school reform group maintains it doesn’t have to disclose donors

Last week, the state of Idaho sent a letter to Education Voters of Idaho and its attorney, asking the secretive group to disclose the source of more than $200,000 donated to another group, Parents for Education Reform, to fund TV commercials that aired across the state supporting Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the Idaho ballot - or show why it wasn't required to do so. The two groups share chairs, boards and the same address. Now, attorney Christ Troupis has sent a four-page letter back to Secretary of State Ben Ysursa contending that the newly formed EVI has no more duty to file campaign disclosures as a political committee than the Idaho Education Association or the National Education Association, both of which donated large sums to the No on Props 1, 2, 3 campaign.

In the letter, Troupis offers to have PFER refund the money back to EVI, but says EVI won't disclose its donors. “My client's First Amendment right to Freedom of Association and Freedom of Speech have been chilled and severely infringed by the unwarranted demands and threats of legal action made by your office,” Troupis writes; you can read his letter here. Troupis is the same attorney who represented the Idaho Republican Party in its closed-primary lawsuit against the state. The money in question went to pay for a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of the school reform propositions, with the slogan, “Education reform for the 21st century is as simple as 1, 2, 3.”

Idaho Code 67-6602 defines a political committee as one that “receives contributions and makes expenditures in an amount exceeding five hundred dollars ($500) in any calendar year for the purpose of supporting or opposing one (1) or more candidates or measures.” The Secretary of State's office has contended that EVI is a political committee; the group says it's not. Ysursa is expected to have some response to Troupis' letter Monday; click below for a full report from AP reporter John MIller. “Disclosure of money given by Sept. 30 is the goal,” Ysursa told The Associated Press today while meeting with state lawyers in his office.


APNewsBreak: Idaho group won't disclose donors
JOHN MILLER,Associated Press


BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A group promoting Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's education overhaul refused Friday to disclose its donors, instead suggesting it be allowed to take back its money.

Education Voters of Idaho's new lawyer, Christ Troupis, told Secretary of State Ben Ysursa that his client is a nonprofit organization that's exempt from campaign disclosure under federal law.

Still, Troupis says the group — created Aug. 16 amid the battle over Luna's overhaul — would take back its $200,000 contribution that went for TV commercials touting the education changes.

Troupis also went on the counterattack, saying Ysursa's efforts to secure the identities of Education Voters of Idaho's financiers were having a chilling effect on the group's free-speech rights.

“My client has ceased its lawful participation in constitutionally protected political activity based on those threats, and thus has already suffered irreparable and immediate harm,” Troupis wrote. “At a critical time, Education Voters of Idaho has been completely removed from the public discourse on issues of Idaho education reform.”

Luna's education reforms, passed by the 2011 Idaho Legislature to limit union bargaining power, promote teacher merit pay and require online classes and student laptop computers, are subject of a heated Nov. 6 repeal effort.

The repeal is being pushed by the Idaho Education Association teachers union.

To help save the overhaul, Education Voters of Idaho gave just over $200,000 to a related political action committee, Parents for Education Reform, for broadcast advertising. The groups share leaders and addresses.

Now, Troupis suggests Parents for Education Reform should be allowed to refund the contribution; after that, “all contributions and expenditures by Parents for Education Reform would be accounted for” in future campaign reports, he told Ysursa.

Ysursa had given Education Voters of Idaho until Friday to explain why it didn't have to reveal its backers' identities.

On Friday, Ysursa was still reviewing Troupis' letter — but said his goal remains winning disclosure of campaign contributions made during the most-recent reporting period.

“Disclosure of money given by Sept. 30 is the goal,” Ysursa told The Associated Press, while meeting with state lawyers in his office.

Late in the afternoon, Ysursa's office said it would likely be at least Monday before it formally responds to Troupis' letter.

Brian Cronin, a Democratic state representative leading the effort to repeal Luna's overhaul, doesn't believe Troupis' claim that Education Voters of Idaho has a broader mission than merely helping promote Luna's reforms to voters before Nov. 6.

“The only activity they're engaged in is secretly raising money for the campaign,” Cronin said, adding he's concerned allowing its contribution to be returned — after the TV commercials have already been paid for — would deny the public its legal right to learn who is bankrolling the effort to save Luna's overhaul.

“It's clear that the secretary of state is concerned about this group violating the spirit of the law, if not the letter of the law,” Cronin said. “The suggestion that the money would just go back to the nonprofit would also appear to be a violation of at least the spirit of the law.”

Ysursa and Troupis have tangled before: Troupis represented the Idaho Republican Party when it successfully sued Ysursa's office in federal court to close the GOP primary election to all but registered party members.

But the Eagle-based Republican lawyer didn't fare as well this year, when Ysursa halted efforts by House Speaker Lawerence Denney and then-Idaho GOP chairman Norm Semanko to oust members of the panel drawing up Idaho's electoral boundaries. Troupis backed Denney and Semanko on that case, decided by the Idaho Supreme Court.

Troupis' role defending Education Voters of Idaho is noteworthy for another reason, too.

Education Voters of Idaho's founder is John Foster, a lobbyist and campaign staffer for former Democratic U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick; Troupis was a political and financial supporter of former U.S. Rep. Bill Sali, who was beaten by Minnick in 2008 — in a campaign Foster helped run.


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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