An anonymous e-mail that began circulating this week falsely accuses Spokane County Commissioner Bonnie Mager of cheating on her taxes.
Her election opponent, former Spokane City Councilman Al French, denied any knowledge of the e-mail Thursday afternoon.
Later in the day, Mager’s print media chairwoman, Keva Monson, said signs with a similar message were popping up around the county.
The signs and the anonymous e-mails both state incorrectly that Mager owes $7,500 in back taxes.
The e-mail message came from “Concerned Spokane Citizen,” using an untraceable account: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The message reiterates arguments French has made in the past, and is similar to statements he made in a signed e-mail Tuesday – a day before the anonymous messages began circulating.
Mager’s anonymous critic erroneously asserted that she “falsified” her application for a program that reduces property taxes on agricultural land.
The program shaved $1,050 off Mager’s property taxes this year. She paid $4,289 after the deferral.
On Tuesday, French said Mager was “apparently abusing a program designed to assist legitimate members of the agricultural community,” but he didn’t say she falsified records.
“Anything that I send out, I’ve got my name on it,” French said.
Mager was unconvinced.
“It’s just lies from beginning to end,” she said of the anonymous e-mail. “… I’m looking into what my options are legally.”
The e-mail includes an attachment that, if printed on a stiff card, would resemble the attack ads that have been filling conventional mailboxes recently.
State law requires campaign fliers sent by regular mail to identify the sponsor, but the state Public Disclosure Commission doesn’t regulate e-mail campaigning.
The electronic flier shows a portion of a notice saying that Mager and her husband, John, would be dropped from the tax-deferral program unless they provide updated information by Nov. 19.
“According to the County Assessor’s office, Bonnie owes more than $7,500 in back property taxes,” the e-mail asserts.
However, Spokane County Assessor Ralph Baker said Mager won’t owe anything unless she is dropped from the program and has to repay seven years of discounts plus interest and penalties.
Mager and 45 others missed a reporting deadline and were given 30 more days to respond. Mager said she didn’t receive the first notice, but she will meet the new deadline.
The request for updated information is routine.
All Mager needs to do is present evidence of the commercial hay crop she said was grown on her 40-acre property this year.
Chief Deputy Assessor Kevin Best said three employees – more than usual – confirmed the Magers’ continuing eligibility for the tax deferral in a 2008 audit of the nearly 9,000 properties in the program.
The e-mail attack says Mager provided no proof that she operated a “commercial stable.” That echoes French’s statement several weeks ago to The Spokesman-Review that the Magers had no license to operate a stable.
State officials said Friday that they knew of no license requirement for stables other than a general requirement for businesses to be registered if their gross income exceeds $12,000 a year.
There is no evidence the Magers claimed to do more than rent out pasture for horses.