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Idaho seeks names of education reform campaign donors

Thu., Oct. 25, 2012, midnight

BOISE – The state of Idaho asked a judge Wednesday to order a secretive group to disclose its funding sources for more than $200,000 in campaign ads in support of three school-reform ballot measures, and do it before the election.

Judge Deborah Bail of Idaho’s 4th District scheduled a hearing on the state’s motion for Friday at 1:30; it asks her to issue an order to get the group to comply.

The group, Education Voters of Idaho, incorporated in August and within the next 40 days had transferred $200,350 to a political committee, Parents for Education Reform. That second group then spent the money on the statewide TV ads.

The contribution and expenditures “were made, directly or indirectly, in a fictitious name, anonymously, or through an agent or other person in such a manner as to conceal the identity or identities of the source(s) of the contributions to EVI, which were in turn immediately spent for political purposes by” the second group, the state’s motion says.

It adds that Idaho’s Sunshine Law, enacted by voter initiative in 1974, “prohibits gamesmanship by which nested political committees string together a daisy chain of contributions and expenditures that hide the true contributors.”

The school reform measures are the hottest issue on Idaho’s November election ballot; approval would retain three controversial reform laws that roll back teacher collective bargaining rights, impose a new merit-pay bonus plan and require laptop computers and online courses for the state’s high school students. Rejection at the polls would repeal the laws.

EVI’s co-founder, John Foster, has maintained that the group doesn’t have to disclose its donors because it’s a 501(c)4 nonprofit, but the state says that doesn’t affect Idaho’s legal disclosure requirements.

The state’s motion asks Bail to order the donors to EVI to be disclosed within seven days or by Nov. 2, whichever is sooner. “The purpose of pre-election disclosure requirements … is to inform the people before they vote on the measures of the sources of the money being spent for and against the measures,” the state’s court filing says. “The harm of hiding that information until after the election cannot be undone by post-election disclosure.”

The state’s lawyers add that “Defendant EVI has already achieved what it wanted – the purchase of over $200,000 of political advertising for measures on the Idaho general election ballot. The bell of political advertising already purchased cannot be unrung. That bell is EVI’s free speech right under Idaho law that cannot be taken away and is not intended to be taken away by the Sunshine Initiative. The only issue left is whether EVI gets an additional benefit – the benefit of secrecy of its donors – to which it is not entitled under Idaho law. EVI must take the sour with the sweet when it enters the political arena.”

Christ Troupis, attorney for EVI, could not immediately be reached for comment. On Friday, the judge will hear from both sides and consider the motion.

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