BOISE - A new TV commercial in Idaho’s school reform fight makes it appear that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has weighed in on Idaho’s ballot propositions.
The commercial uses a clip from a speech Romney gave in May about a recall election in Wisconsin, a part of which was re-broadcast on C-Span in June when it interviewed a teachers union official. In the clip, Romney criticizes teachers unions and says they’ve “lost their way” and “protest the loudest” when “anyone dares to offer a new idea.”
Frank VanderSloot, an eastern Idaho millionaire and Romney campaign finance co-chair, said he funded the commercial independently from the Romney campaign, paying for it through Natural Guardian LLC, a real-estate holding company that he owns.
VanderSloot said he didn’t check with Romney before putting together the ad - and couldn’t, because independent expenditures legally can’t be coordinated with campaigns. “I suspect he’d be totally on board with it,” VanderSloot said. “This is his words, his feelings, and his leadership on how to deal with the unions. So I can’t talk to him about it, but my impression is he would say, ‘Run it a thousand times.’”
The Romney campaign didn’t respond to a reporter’s repeated inquiries Friday about the ad.
After the Romney clip, the ad concludes, “Don’t let unions take control of Idaho schools. Vote yes on Propositions 1, 2 and 3.”
The propositions roll back most collective bargaining rights for Idaho teachers; make all teacher contracts expire every year; impose a new merit-pay bonus system; and shift state funding priorities to a new focus on technology and online learning, including supplying a laptop computer to every Idaho high school student.
The ad is very similar in appearance to an earlier ad paid for by the official “Yes for Idaho Education” campaign that’s backing the three ballot measures. Both begin with simple, and identical, graphics of words on the screen, show a video clip, and then return to the same type of graphics.
The Yes campaign’s ad featured a three-year-old video of former National Education Association general counsel Bob Chanin talking in his retirement speech about union power, suggesting that he was revealing the NEA’s reason for donating $1.06 million this year to the campaign against the three Idaho ballot measures.
VanderSloot said both ads were produced by the same production company, one he often uses, that he recommended to the Yes campaign. He’s also donated $50,000 to the Yes campaign.
The owner of eastern Idaho health products firm Melaleuca, VanderSloot said he’ll likely spend about $100,000 on the ad campaign, which also includes longer versions of the ad on radio and started running Wednesday. Initially, the TV ads are running only in southern Idaho, but VanderSloot said he’s considering also running them in the pricier Spokane-Coeur d’Alene market.
Asked why he decided to feature Romney in his ads, VanderSloot said, “You can’t say very much in a 30-second spot. Mitt Romney has been so adamant that we need to do education reform … and has spoken out many times. We just took one of his talks, about the fact that teacher unions will continue to block education reform.”
He added, “We just thought that there’s enough people in this area that would be interested in what Mitt Romney has to say.”
VanderSloot said at his own business, “We’re not worried about unions - my employees would never want a union.” He said that’s because he offers extensive benefits and perks, including big longevity bonuses, subsidized on-site day care and and a service that runs errands for employees while they’re at work.
He’s a big backer of the controversial new “Students Come First” laws, particularly Proposition 1 on teacher collective bargaining rights; he’s been less enthusiastic about the required technology boosts in Proposition 3. VanderSloot said he felt compelled to spend big in the campaign because of the teachers union’s big-bucks support for the other side, the campaign against the measures. If voters vote the propositions down, the new laws will be repealed.
“I think that teachers unions are particularly bad for American schools,” VanderSloot said. “They don’t need to be but they are, as proof in the fact that they are opposing these very good laws.”