BOISE – An unregistered group calling itself “Idaho Citizens for Justice” launched a last-minute campaign attack against an Idaho Supreme Court challenger over the weekend, in the final days before Tuesday’s Idaho election.
The group sent out full-color mailings statewide and placed large newspaper advertisements in three southern Idaho papers touting Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick and criticizing his challenger, 2nd District Judge John Bradbury. But the group hadn’t registered with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office as a political committee or independent campaign, nor had it reported its sources of funding - which turned out to have come entirely from Melaleuca Inc., a personal-care products firm headed by eastern Idaho conservative activist Frank VanderSloot.
Burdick said Monday morning that he was unaware of the “Citizens for Justice” group. “I have no idea who or what is going on, absolutely none,” he said. “And nobody in my campaign has worked with that group, I can guarantee you.”
Bradbury said, “Those ads are disgusting. … Not only are they untrue personal attacks, but they’re illegal personal attacks, and if that’s the kind of justice they want on the Supreme Court, they oughta vote for Burdick.”
The Idaho Secretary of State’s office scrambled Monday to find out who was behind the group, which could face fines of up to $50 per day plus civil penalties. “If they’re specifically designated to support or oppose a candidate or measure, then they’re required to become a political committee,” said Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst, who said the requirements apply if the group receives contributions and makes expenditures exceeding $500. State law also requires notice to be filed within 48 hours of an independent campaign expenditure.
Jonathan Haines of Idaho Falls, a former Melaleuca employee who’s chairing the “Citizens for Justice” group, filed reports Monday afternoon showing that the group received and spent $38,000, half from Melaleuca Inc. and half from “Citizens for Commonsense” in Idaho Falls. That group, also a previously unregistered PAC, filed a belated report Monday afternoon showing its entire funding of $19,000 came from Melaleuca.
VanderSloot has been a major funder of numerous political campaigns, and four years ago helped defeat a sitting judge in his eastern Idaho district after he was unhappy with the judge’s behavior in a case involving his firm.
“We’ve taken a role over the last 10 years or so, but we’ve always done it in the open,” VanderSloot told The Spokesman-Review. “I’m embarrassed I gave my money to someplace that hadn’t done the paperwork right.”
Haines said he thought he’d filed the required paperwork, but said there was a glitch with a fax transmission.
VanderSloot, whose firm is the largest non-government employer in eastern Idaho with 2,300 workers, said he was worried that since Bradbury self-funded his first run for the Idaho Supreme Court two years ago, he might do so again and could eclipse Burdick’s ability to get his own message out in this year’s campaign.
“We thought, ‘This is a guy that thinks he can buy himself a seat and is wealthy enough to do it,’” VanderSloot said.
However, this time around, both high court candidates are accepting campaign contributions, and Burdick has a substantial fundraising edge. Bradbury has raised $59,789, according to his campaign finance report, including $32,600 of his own money, with the rest coming mostly from individuals. Burdick has raised $80,378, according to his report, including contributions from individuals, law firms and PACs.
The newspaper ads reproduced a portion of an Idaho State Bar member survey in which members ranked the two high court candidates. Below that, in bold type, the ads said, “For more information contact Dan Black,” and listed Black’s phone number and email address at the Idaho State Bar. Black is the communications director for the Idaho State Bar.
“I was surprised to see my name on an ad this weekend in the Idaho Statesman,” Black said. “Of course I gave no permission and no permission was requested to utilize my name.” He noted, “The Idaho State Bar does not make endorsements.”
The “Citizens for Justice” group also has a website and a Facebook page, established on May 12, which criticizes Bradbury for comments about abortion in a 1992 legislative campaign and says he has a “troublesome record on law and order issues,” while touting Burdick as a “supporter of open government and a free press.” It lists descriptions of cases and legal citations, including six cases in which Bradbury’s district court rulings were overturned on appeal.
Bradbury said, “I’ve been reversed six times, that’s true - but out of how many? I think my appellate rate is probably about 90 percent. … I have a lot of trials, judges have trials and have appeals. … I’m proud of what I’ve done. In four of those six cases I was probably right, it’s a matter of opinion - they have the last say.”
VanderSloot said he’s done his campaign spending from his company, rather than personally, because of limits on campaign contributions from individuals to candidates, and because he believes businesses and corporations have a right to participate in the political sphere.
“Now it’s not popular to do, and I’m sure we’ll be beat up on mercilessly,” VanderSloot said. “That doesn’t bother me. … I think it’s incumbent upon us to do things legally and ethically and honestly, and let the chips fall where they will.”