Posts tagged: John Foster
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says it wasn't him who asked New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to donate to Idaho's school-reform fight - it was First Lady Lori Otter. “The first lady was the one that talked to Mike's organization,” Otter said today, before judging a children's Halloween costume contest on the state Capitol steps. “You know, we got to know Mike pretty well, going up to the, Herb Allen has his gathering up in Sun Valley, and so every year we've gone up, we've ran into Mike, and had an opportunity to kind of get to know each other. He's been interested in education, and Lori I think was telling him about it while we were up there, and he said, 'Give me a call, I'll see if I can help you,' or give his organization a call, I should say, and he'd see if he could help us.” Bloomberg donated $200,000 to the secret-donations group Education Voters of Idaho, which today revealed its donors under a court order.
Otter said he was the one who made the pitch to Albertson's heir Joe Scott, who anted up $250,000. “And he was very gracious,” Otter said. “But he wanted everybody to know and to make sure that it was him personally,” as opposed to the J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation. Both Otter and the first lady today were dressed in costumes consisting of academic caps and gowns, with the foundation's “Go On” slogan festooned on them, urging kids to go on to higher ed after college.
Otter said he did participate in a fundraiser for the school-reform campaign at the Republican National Convention that featured Jeb Bush. He asked how much EVI reported today that it had raised overall, and seemed pleased with the $641,000 figure, saying, “OK, good!”
The group was presented by its chair, Debbie Field, and co-executive director, John Foster, as a way to provide a voice for parents in the debate, but its donor list is heavy on businesses and organizations and out-of-state wealthy folks. “As far as corporations, those other organizations, remember they all have employees, and those employees have kids,” Otter said. “And they also want to look forward to tomorrow's workforce, and they know that a good education is an important part of that.”
Otter said he was fine with the donors being disclosed. “I think, look, that's the law,” he said. “No matter where you organize the organization … they've got to obey our laws. And that has been my position all along.”
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa says Education Voters of Idaho has now complied with the state's Sunshine Law, by filing the required forms revealing its donors. “This seems to be in total compliance with what we wanted, and of course the judge's order,” he said. “This is what we always wanted, we wanted disclosure. Let the people decide with all the information in front of them, who gave what to a ballot measure committee. That's certainly required by the Sunshine Law that 78 percent of the folks voted for way back in 1974.”
He noted that other states are grappling with similar issues. California is currently trying to get pre-election disclosure on an $11 million donation, Ysursa said. “We're watching the California issue very, very closely from a legal point of view.” He said, “We can always fine-tune our law to make it crystal-clear.” But Ysursa said Idaho has the right, as a matter of state sovereignty, to regulate campaign finances as it chooses and require disclosure.
“We do think this will send a message,” Ysursa said. “This office takes its duties very seriously on campaign disclosure, and when we came up across this scenario, we felt compelled that we had to go into court and follow the law.” He added, “I just hope we all get back to what's very important, and that's Nov 6 and get people out to vote.”
Overall, the campaign finance reports filed by Education Voters of Idaho today showed that most of the donations were large and many were from out of state, including the marquee donation of $200,000 from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Of the group’s 25 donors, 10 were from outside Idaho; the out-of-state donors’ total of $320,000 in contributions nearly matched the $321,000 from in-state donors. Twelve of the 25 donors were businesses or organizations; 13 were individuals. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
John Foster and Debbie Field of Education Voters for Idaho submitted a letter to Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa when they filed their required campaign finance disclosure forms for the group this afternoon. In it, they said they “strongly disagree” with 4th District Judge Mike Wetherell's decision ordering them to disclose, but, “we have decided to fully comply with his order rather than immediately file an appeal.” They said they are still considering whether to file an appeal.
“We want to make it clear to you and to the public that our actions were based solely on what we believe are our duties to our donors,” the two wrote, “and our duty to protect our rights as a corporation under Idaho code, the Idaho Constitution and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. We are proud of our donors and humbled by their strong support for long-term education reform in Idaho.” You can read the full letter here.
The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation has released this statement: “The donation made by Joe B. Scott to the Education Voters of Idaho fund was made by Mr. Scott as a private, concerned citizen. The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation was not involved in any way in the contribution and no Foundation funds were used.”
Click below for the remainder of the statement, which focuses on the foundation's vision of “limitless learning for all Idahoans.”
Asked why the mayor of New York donated $200,000 to an Idaho school reform ballot measure campaign, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg's press office said, “I don't know the answer. … We're a little wall-to-wall right now.” The city is in the midst of coping with the giant superstorm that's hit the east coast. “That's a separate operation, the mayor's private money,” the spokesman said. “This is city hall. … I will pass this along and see if I can have someone get back to you.”
Here's a link to the full campaign finance reports filed this afternoon by Education Voters of Idaho, which show that the group has collected more than $641,000 in until-now anonymous donations to back state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's “Students Come First” school reforms. The two biggest givers, by far, were New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, $200,000, and Albertson's heir Joe Scott, $250,000. Others who gave $10,000 or more included John D. Bryan of Lake Oswego, Ore., $10,000; Intermountain Gas Co., $10,000; Idaho Forest Group, $10,000; F. Friess of Jackson, Wyo., $25,000; Republican Governors Public Policy Committee, $50,000; M3 Eagle LLC, $10,000; Hagadone Hospitality, $15,000; and Clear Springs Foods of Buhl, $10,000.
Education Voters of Idaho, acting under a judge's order, filed its campaign finance disclosure report this afternoon, revealing the until-now anonymous donors to the group's statewide TV ad campaign in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the school reform measures. Among them: $200,000 from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and $250,000 from Boise's Joseph B. Scott.
Michael Bloomberg is the third-term mayor of New York, an independent, a former Republican and former Democrat, and one of the nation's richest men. He is pro-choice, pro-gun control, and made national waves this year with his move to ban the sale of sugary soft drinks in servings bigger than 16 ounces on public health grounds. He's clashed with the city's public employee unions, including during a transit workers strike in 2005, and as mayor took direct control over the city's public schools, where he's pushed for reforms.
Joseph B. Scott is the grandson of the late grocery store magnate Joe Albertson; he's the chairman of the board of the J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation, which has donated millions toward public education projects in Idaho, from funding the Idaho Education Network to giving grants to Idaho school districts. The foundation ran full-page ads in newspapers across Idaho in 2011 promoting state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's “Students Come First” school reform plan. Scott also made millions with his own investments in for-profit online education firm K12 Inc., according to the Associated Press, even as the family foundation handed out grants in Idaho to increase online learning.
Note: Despite the time stamp on this post, I didn't get this early. My newspaper's servers are in the Pacific time zone, so the time stamps show a time an hour earlier than the Mountain time I operate in here in Boise.
Idaho political watchers are awaiting the big reveal today - when a secretive group, under a court order, reveals the source of more than $200,000 it collected to underwrite statewide TV ads in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the school reform measures. The rumor mill is going wild, but nothing's been filed yet. A judge has ordered Education Voters of Idaho to file its disclosure report with the Idaho Secretary of State's office by 3 p.m.
Meanwhile, click below for AP reporter John Miller's report on how Idaho isn't alone in scrutinizing how campaign disclosure laws apply to nonprofit groups.
Education Voters of Idaho, the group that's been fighting to keep secret its contributors who financed a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, apparently has given in and will reveal its donors tomorrow in accordance with a court order. “That's what it appears,” said Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst. “They said they were going to file, yes.”
Today, the group filed its C1 form, the initial reporting form required of political committees. It shows that EVI's chair is Debbie Field and its treasurer is Cordell Chigbrow. That information is identical to that reported for Parents for Education Reform, the group that purchased the TV ads after getting $200,000 handed over from EVI. Yesterday, 4th District Judge Mike Wetherell ordered the group to disclose the sources of its funds under the state's Sunshine Law, and to do so by 3 p.m. on Wednesday. “We're hopeful that they're going to do what the judge ordered and file the other reports,” Hurst said. If so, “They'll be online immediately.”
Attorney Christ Troupis had indicated he was considering appealing Wetherell's order to the Idaho Supreme Court, but no appeal was received there by the close of business today. Troupis didn't return a reporter's call this afternoon.
Meanwhile, Parents for Education Reform has filed its campaign finance report, showing that it got another $100,000 from EVI on Oct. 2, but refunded the payment back to the group on Oct. 19. The PFER report also shows contributions of $50,000 from U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and $100,000 from StudentsFirst, a Sacramento, Calif.-based group launched by former Washington, D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee whose mission is “transformative reform” of schools. As for its campaign activities in October, PFER reported spending another $100,000 Oct. 2 on broadcast advertising, on top of the $200,000 it spent earlier from EVI funds.
Among the unsuccessful defenses that the secretive “Education Voters of Idaho” offered yesterday in court for its position that it shouldn't have to disclose its donors was “selective enforcement.” Attorney Christ Troupis noted that John Foster, co-executive director of the group, submitted an affidavit to which he attached 215 examples he dug up from over the years of corporations that donated to political committees in Idaho without turning the corporations themselves into political committees that fall under campaign finance laws. Among them: The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation and Micron Technology.
Idaho Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane responded, “The reason why corporations like Micron and Farm Bureau aren't under the microscope is because they weren't taking contributions.” He noted that Foster and partner Kate Haas, in affidavits submitted to the court, “both acknowledge that Education Voters of Idaho solicited contributions.” Kane also told the court, “A political committee doesn't necessarily have to be a corporation, but a corporation most certainly can be a political committee.”
Here's what 4th District Judge Mike Wetherell had to say about the “selective enforcement” argument: “I will point out that the issues that are addressed here, from my standpoint, are legal issues. I can appreciate Mr. Troupis' frustration with the arguments he's made related to selective enforcement or that they have been singled out, but as the Secretary of State is fully aware, if someone is dissatisfied with the way he is administering the law, the solution is at the ballot box - it is not in this courtroom. And so that is not going to be a major factor that this court is going to be looking at.”
Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today's court decision upholding Idaho's Sunshine Law and ordering a secret-donations group to reveal its donors by Wednesday. Fourth District Judge Mike Wetherell ordered Education Voters of Idaho to disclose its donors by 3 p.m. on Halloween. The group must “file all required further reports when required or face sanctions,” the judge wrote. Possible sanctions include fines and penalties contained in the state's Sunshine Law. In addition, anyone flouting a court order could be held in contempt by the court, and even jailed until they comply with the order.
Christ Troupis, attorney for EVI, said he's reviewing the decision and considering an appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who sued to enforce the Sunshine Law's disclosure requirements, pointed to a clause in the law that forbids groups from concealing the true source of funds used in campaigns. Wetherell cited that clause from the law twice in his decision, once in bold-face. “Idaho law is clear and unambiguous,” he wrote. “There can be no anonymous contributions either in favor of or in opposition to Propositions 1, 2 and 3.” He also pointed to a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in a 2010 Washington case, Human Life of Washington Inc., that upheld that state's similar disclosure requirement.
Fourth District Judge Mike Wetherell has ruled in favor of the state of Idaho in its lawsuit seeking disclosure of the secret donors to a campaign against three Idaho ballot measures; Wetherell ordered Education Voters of Idaho to disclose its donors by 3 p.m. this Wednesday, Halloween. The group must “file all required further reports when required or face sanctions,” the judge wrote. You can read his 19-page decision here.
Wrote Wetherell, “A failure by the Defendants to follow the requirements of the Sunshine Initiative is in violation of the rights of Idaho citizens as provided by law, and a failure to grant injunctive relief at this time would permit the law to be violated with impunity and would result in irreparable harm to the voters of Idaho whose rights under the Sunshine Initiative the Secretary of State is charged with protecting.”
4th District Judge Mike Wetherell, after taking close to an hour of arguments from both sides in the secret-donations case, said he's going to try to have his opinion out by 5 p.m. today. “I don't know whether I'll make it, but I'm going to attempt to,” he said. He added that the parties are “going to run out of here to the Supreme Court as soon as the opinion's done anyway, I'm sure,” and Christ Troupis, attorney for Education Voters of Idaho, laughed heartily.
Asked afterward, he said if the secretive group that ran statewide TV ads backing Propositions 1, 2 and 3 doesn't prevail today in its bid to head off the Secretary of State's demands that it reveal the sources of the money for the campaign under the Idaho Sunshine Law, he will appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court. “These are important issues,” Troupis said. “This needs to be a considered decision.”
He maintained that EVI, which was formed on the same day and by the same people as a political committee that placed the TV ads, is akin to the Idaho Statesman newspaper or Micron Corp. in engaging in politics - the newspaper through endorsing candidates, and Micron in donating corporate funds to a PAC. But Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane argued that EVI is different, and that its activities show a clear effort to evade the Sunshine law and avoid disclosure. “There is a need for disclosure. The public has a right to know,” Kane told the court. “This is the court's opportunity to let that sun shine.”
The secret-donations case has now been assigned to a new state judge and a new hearing date and time set. Fourth District Judge Mike Wetherell will hear from both sides Monday at 1:30, on the state's motion for a court order forcing Education Voters of Idaho to disclose the source of the more than $200,000 it collected for a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the November ballot, the “Students Come First” school reform measures. EVI has maintained it's exempt from the state Sunshine Law's requirement to disclose its contributors; the state strongly disagrees, and is seeking disclosure before the fast-approaching Nov. 6 election.
Here's an update from AP reporter John Miller: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― A lawsuit to force a group touting public schools chief Tom Luna's education overhaul to reveal still-secret financiers is back in state court. The group, Education Voters of Idaho, sought a shift to federal court, to help it fight Secretary of State Ben Ysursa's demands. But on Friday, Ysursa's attorney and the group's lawyer, Christ Troupis, signed papers agreeing to contest the matter in 4th District Court. Even so, a hearing on Ysursa's lawsuit that had been set for Friday at 1:30 p.m. has been postponed ― and the original state judge removed from the case. Ysursa demands EVI disclose names of donors of more than $200,000 to broadcast ads promoting Luna's education changes before the Nov. 6 election. Troupis argues his group has the right to conceal donors' identities.
Bob Cooper, spokesman for the Idaho Attorney General's office, said, “My understanding is that the other side wants a different judge.” No new hearing date has yet been set. “But they are talking,” Cooper said, “and they're trying to get a new judge named and get a hearing set for Monday.”
The state of Idaho has filed a motion in federal court to remand the secret-donations case back to state court, after attorney Christ Troupis, representing Education Voters of Idaho, filed a motion yesterday to remove the case to federal court. Troupis claimed it should go there because the issue involves the First Amendment and 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In legal documents filed in federal court this morning, the Idaho Attorney General's office writes that “not one word” of the Secretary of State's complaint against the secretive group was grounded in the 1st Amendment, the 14th Amendment, “or any other provision of federal law. The substantive law to be applied was the Idaho Sunshine Initiative found at Idaho Code 67-6601.” 4th District Judge Deborah Bail had scheduled a hearing for 1:30 p.m. today in state court on the state's bid for a court order forcing EVI to disclose its funding sources. It's now unclear whether that hearing will take place today or not.
The group funneled more than $200,000 in anonymous donations into statewide TV ads in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the November ballot, and is refusing Secretary of State Ben Ysursa's demand that it disclose the donors under Idaho's Sunshine Law. You can read the state's latest filing here.
The state's lawyers argue that EVI is wrongly attempting to use the process of removing the case to federal court to delay disclosure until after the election, which is just 11 days away. “Defendants should not be able to use the processes of Federal District Court removal to postpone their day of reckoning under Idaho law until after the general election is over,” they write. They also argue that federal law clearly allows removal only when federal issues are cited in the original complaint, not when the defendant cites a federal issue in its defense.
Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey has a column today entitled “Don't mess with Big Ben,” in which he notes that backers of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 are taking on the state's most popular Republican official by defying his call to disclose their donors for a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of the measures, as Secretary of State Ben Ysursa contends is required under Idaho's Sunshine law. Ysursa was the state's top vote-getter in both 2002 and 2010, out-polling every other contested candidate and averaging 76 percent of the vote.
Popkey writes, “In what appears a desperate attempt to keep secret embarrassing information about the contributions,” the heads of a group dubbed Education Voters of Idaho, Debbie Field and John Foster, are “linking Ysursa, a life-long Republican, with teachers unions the campaign calls 'thugs.' ” In an op-ed piece distributed Monday to Idaho newspapers, Field and Foster wrote, “Although efforts by the Secretary of State, the union and its allies have temporarily chilled our ability to fulfill our mission, we won't back down.” Popkey notes that Ysursa is going after the teachers unions for disclosure as well. Late Monday, Ysursa went to court seeking a judge's order that EVI disclose its donors prior to the election. You can read the full column here.
Popkey reports that Ysursa had private talks with Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, a leading backer of the propositions, to try to get the group to disclose its contributors. “This should have been vetted a lot more than it was,” Ysursa told Popkey. “Everybody's antenna should have gone up when they're going to give money anonymously.”
Idaho's Secretary of State went to court today, seeking a court order to make a defiant secret-donations group reveal the source of more than $200,000 spent on statewide campaign commercials backing three controversial school-reform measures. “The voters made it clear, when they passed the Sunshine initiative, that public disclosure is an essential element of Idaho elections,” Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said in a statement. “The citizens want to know where the money comes from and how it's spent. That's been the policy and the law of this state for 38 years. My job is to enforce that law.”
You can read Ysursa's full statement here, and read the state's 13-page complaint here, filed today in 4th District Court in Ada County; read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Idaho's Sunshine law, enacted by voter initiative in 1974, says its purpose is “to promote openness in government and avoiding secrecy by those giving financial support to state election campaigns and those promoting or opposing legislation.”
Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the developments so far today on the secret-donations group, Education Voters of Idaho, and its vow to step back up its campaign in favor of three Idaho school reform ballot measures without disclosing who's funding it. “We won't back down,” Education Voters of Idaho co-founders John Foster and Debbie Field said in a news release.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said he has no problem with the group conducting whatever campaign activities it wishes - as long as it complies with the state's campaign finance disclosure laws. “I commend them for their involvement,” Ysursa said. “All we're after is disclosure of contributors. … We're out to enforce the provisions of the state's Sunshine laws.”
Last week, the group offered to refund the $200,000-plus in contributions rather than disclose the donors, but the state today deemed that unacceptable. “The money has been received, and the money has already been spent,” Ysursa said. “It's hard to undo that.” He said, “We think our law matters. … Pre-election disclosure is crucial.”
The state of Idaho has sent a formal response to Christ Troupis, attorney for Education Voters of Idaho, the secret-donations group backing the school reform ballot measures, Propositions 1, 2, and 3, calling the group's position “not acceptable” and reiterating that the state believes the group is “a political committee that must comply with the reporting requirements of Idaho Code 67-6607.”
The letter, from Deputy Attorney General Michael Gilmore, says, “EVI's status as a Section 501 (c)(4) corporation has no bearing on the issue of its status as a political committee or not. Any corporation that receives donations that are in turn spent in support of or opposition to ballot measures is a political committee when it exceeds the monetary thresholds of Idaho Code 67-6602(p) without regard to whether promoting or opposing the ballot measures is the corporation's principal mission or only part of a larger mission.”
He adds, “You are correct that the IEA and NEA are in many ways similar to the EVI with regard to receiving contributions and in turn forwarding them to other political committees. That is why similar demands are also being directed to them.”
The letter also responds to Troupis' contention that the state's demand that the group disclose its donors violates the group's 1st Amendment rights. “In the absence of the most extreme circumstances, e.g., where persons who exercise their First Amendment right might be in danger if their identities became known, there is no First Amendment right to keep one's significant contributions to political speech secret,” Gilmore wrote. “The Secretary of State is aware of no such circumstances here.” You can read the full letter here.