BOISE – Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa went to court Monday, seeking to force a defiant secret-donations group to reveal the source of more than $200,000 spent on statewide TV campaign commercials backing three controversial school reform measures.
The lawsuit, filed in 4th District Court in Ada County, asks the court to declare that Education Voters of Idaho is a political committee subject to Idaho’s Sunshine law, and order it to file campaign finance reports disclosing donors.
“The voters made it clear, when they passed the Sunshine initiative, that public disclosure is an essential element of Idaho elections,” 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.”
John Foster and Debbie Field, co-founders of Education Voters of Idaho, maintain that because it’s a 501(c)4 nonprofit, it’s exempt from Idaho’s campaign finance disclosure laws, but the state says otherwise. Ysursa said that when the group failed to respond to the state’s demands for disclosure, he headed to court.
“I welcome the involvement of EVI in the electoral process and do not wish to limit their participation,” he said. “I am simply asking the court to order them to file the campaign finance disclosure reports that are required by law.”
Last week, attorney Christ Troupis, on behalf of the group, offered to refund the $200,000-plus in contributions rather than disclose the donors, but the state called that offer “not acceptable.”
Ysursa told The Spokesman-Review, “The money has been received, and the money has already been spent. It’s hard to undo that.”
Said Ysursa, “Pre-election disclosure is crucial.”
Troupis maintained that the new group had no more responsibility to disclose its donors than did the Idaho Education Association and the National Education Association, both of which made large contributions to the campaigns against the school-reform ballot measures.
The state’s asking those groups to disclose, too, along with a third one, the League of Conservation Voters. The NEA donated $1.06 million to the Vote No on Props 1, 2, 3 campaign; the IEA made in-kind contributions of $180,021 to the same campaign; and the League of Conservation Voters contributed $15,000 to Conservation Voters for Idaho Action Fund.
Education Voters of Idaho funneled more than $200,000 in secret donations to another group, Parents for Education Reform, to pay for a statewide TV ad campaign backing the three school reform measures on Idaho’s November ballot, Propositions 1, 2 and 3. Parents for Education Reform and Education Voters of Idaho have the same leaders and the same address.
Ysursa’s lawsuit names EVI’s three board members: Field, Phil Reberger and Mark Dunham.
Foster said the group had no comment after the filing of the lawsuit.
But earlier the same day, he and Field sent out a press release headed “We won’t back down,” and vowed to continue their campaign without revealing their funding sources.
“A decision about further television advertising hasn’t been made yet,” Foster said.