BOISE – Idaho’s campaign finance disclosure deadline came and went Wednesday without any word on who funded a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of controversial school reform measures – and backers say they don’t plan to disclose their donors.
Former state Rep. Debbie Field, the former two-time campaign manager for Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, said potential donors to the campaign backing the reform laws are given two options: Donate to the official Yes for Education campaign, which means their contributions will be reported; or give anonymously through two new groups Field is chairing.
Field said she believes people have been intimidated by unions on the school reform issue, and the groups provide an avenue “for people who really wanted to give but didn’t want to go through the intimidation.” She said, “They will give if they feel like they can give anonymously to a place that will support education, but they don’t want to be maligned.”
The arrangement is under legal review at the Idaho secretary of state’s office.
An opponent of the measures called the fear of intimidation “preposterous” and decried the groups as a front for mischief.
“The existence of these entities raises the specter that corporations that have a direct and very lucrative financial interest in the outcome of this election have the ability to fund the advertising for this election anonymously,” said state Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, a spokesman for the campaign against the measures. “That’s what’s most frightening.”
The reform laws include requiring the state to supply a laptop computer for every Idaho high school student, along with other technology boosts and a new focus on online learning. They also roll back teachers’ collective bargaining rights and impose a new merit-pay bonus system.
State lawmakers passed the laws in 2011 amid widespread opposition; when opponents appeared close to gathering enough signatures to place repeal measures on the ballot, lawmakers added emergency clauses to all three bills so that they’d take effect even before the 2012 public vote.
Field said, “In this instance, I feel like there’s been so much intimidation from the other side. There have been some teachers that have been fearful of coming out.”
Field is the chairman of Parents for Education Reform and Education Voters for Idaho, which share the same board members and address and are funneling contributions from undisclosed donors into the ad campaign in favor of the referenda, Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on Idaho’s November ballot. A yes vote on the measures would keep the laws; a no vote would repeal them.
Field credited lobbyist and political activist John Foster for coming up with the idea to create Education Voters of Idaho as a 501c(4) nonprofit organization and keep its contributions anonymous. In campaign finance reports filed by Parents for Education Reform, the only source of funding cited is a $200,350 donation from Education Voters of Idaho, all but $32 of which was spent on the group’s pro-reform statewide TV ad campaign. Foster maintains that Education Voters of Idaho doesn’t have to file a campaign disclosure report; the Idaho secretary of state’s office disagrees.
Tim Hurst, chief deputy secretary of state, said, “We think he does (have to report). We’ve got the attorneys looking at it to see if he does or he doesn’t.”
Foster said, “We are still discussing with the secretary of state the confusing, conflicting information and guidance we received, and we’re looking forward to resolving that confusion.”
Yes for Idaho Education, the official campaign in favor of the school reform measures, also filed its campaign finance report Wednesday, showing it’s raised $164,858 and spent $112,679 on its campaign. The biggest contributions were $50,000 from Melaleuca and $15,000 from Hagadone Hospitality; other big givers included the Idaho Prosperity Fund and the Idaho Republican Party.
Meanwhile, filings from the “No on Props 1,2,3” campaign, the group opposing the measures, showed it has raised $1.4 million and spent $1.3 million. The largest chunk, $1.06 million, came from the National Education Association, with the rest coming from in-kind donations from the Idaho Education Association or from hundreds of small donations from individuals across the state listed in a 49-page report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.