September 10, 2010 in Idaho

Hart target of campaign finance complaint

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE - Idaho Rep. Phil Hart’s write-in challenger has filed a complaint with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office over Hart’s campaign finance filings for a PAC he formed this year called “North Idahoans for Liberty.”

The political action committee filed reports with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office showing that it received $6,776.30 in contributions this year, spent $5,846.21, and had $930.09 left as of June 4. But the itemized schedules filed with those summary figures showed far less in contributions - just $3,468.09, including both cash and in-kind donations - though the expenditure figures match up.

“How can NIFL spend more cash than it received?” Howard Griffiths asked in a complaint sent to the Secretary of State’s office and distributed to Idaho news media outlets on Friday. And, he asked, “Since NIFL spent more than it received in contributions, how can it have $930.09 of cash on hand?”

Tim Hurst, chief deputy secretary of state, said the office has not yet received the complaint, but Hart’s report for the PAC has been under review by staffers in the office since it was filed for errors and discrepancies, including possible missing pages. “They’ve asked him repeatedly to get those in, he hasn’t done so,” Hurst told The Spokesman-Review on Friday. “I just called him to tell him, and he wasn’t in, but I left him a message that we need that report in and we need it in now.”

Political candidates or committees that fail to file reports or that falsify the data can face fines and even misdemeanor criminal prosecution; for a PAC, the fine can be up to $2,500. Late filings can bring fines of $50 per day.

“Our main goal is getting disclosure,” Hurst said. “Typically we threaten ‘em with the $50 fine and they get the report right in. But there are people we fine every year, too.”

Hurst said in response to inquiries from the Secretary of State’s office, Hart already has made some corrections to the report, but there appear to be at least one and possibly two pages of itemized contributions still missing. “So we’re working with him to get that report filed correctly,” he said.

Hurst said complaints about campaign finance reports must be filed on his office’s prescribed form; Griffiths’ complaint, as distributed to the media, isn’t on the form, but appears to contain roughly the information requested by the form.

Griffiths, in his complaint, cites Hart’s ongoing tax woes, in which public records show the three-term GOP state representative and tax protester owes nearly $700,000 in back federal and state income taxes, penalties and interest. “An investigation into Representative Hart’s financial dealings should be initiated,” Griffiths wrote. “An investigation would determine if Representative Hart received unreported income.”

He asked that an investigation be launched by either the secretary of state’s office or the Idaho Attorney General.

Neither Hart nor Griffiths was immediately available for comment. Hart was unopposed for re-election to a fourth term in the state Legislature until Griffiths filed to challenge him as a write-in candidate out of concern over Hart’s tax issues; both are Republicans.

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