Beware the last-minute campaign message – that’s the lesson out of Kootenai County today, as Jeff Ward, head of the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans, is calling for a criminal investigation into a group with a name very close to that of his group, which sent out a last-minute endorsement mailing with all the same graphics he used in a similar one in 2012, but backing candidates his group opposes.
Among the candidates the new mailing endorses: One who’s running against Ward himself, in a three-way race for the legislative seat now held by retiring Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls.
The new group also calls itself “Kootenai County Reagan Republicans,” along with “Idaho Reagan Republicans, PAC,” and is the same group that’s quarreled with Ward’s group over the past two years over the use of the “Kootenai County Reagan Republicans” name, even, at one point, filing state business papers to use the name and telling Ward’s group to stop.
Jeff Alltus, vice president of the new group, said, “Our idea is just you can only besmirch the name of Ronald Reagan enough. … The Reagan Republicans, the old ones, they just sold out.” He said his group decided several years ago to “just take it all over.”
“We have the name,” Alltus said. “He doesn’t have the name registered. As far as the Reagan Republicans, they’re a nobody. They’re just a group of people who get together.”
Ward countered, “The issue is not so much the name, the issue is the fact that they’re trying to impersonate us and make people think that it’s us who endorsed those candidates.” His group didn’t send out an endorsement flier this year, as it only endorsed four candidates: Himself, and Reps. Ed Morse, Luke Malek and Kathy Sims.
The new PAC’s mailing endorses the GOP primary challengers to both Morse and Malek, Eric Redman and Toby Schindelbeck. It also backs a tea party slate for top state offices, led by Russ Fulcher for governor and Jim Chmelik for lieutenant governor. On its front, it features a big photo of Ronald Reagan with a flag and the question, “WWRD?* What Would Reagan Do?” That’s identical to the mailing Ward sent out in 2012, which endorsed 13 candidates in local, legislative and state races.
“I’m incredibly disappointed that people would stoop to this level,” Ward said. “And this is more than dirty tricks – this is criminal activity, using the U.S. mails to perpetuate a fraud. It’s a new low in Idaho politics, I think.”
However, from the perspective of the Idaho Secretary of State’s office, the new PAC appears to have properly filed its initial papers over the weekend, and if it discloses its donors and spending today, it likely will have complied with state disclosure rules. “We don’t regulate content,” said chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst. “All Idaho’s Sunshine Law requires is disclosure.”
He added, “At the end of the campaign period, there’s always a flurry of stuff going out. They skate close to the line, but they usually don’t break the rules.”
His office is investigating a Denver group that’s running radio ads in eastern Idaho promoting two legislative incumbents there; the group hasn’t filed state disclosure forms. “They don’t think they need to,” Hurst said. But under Idaho law, they do. “We’re just saying, ‘Tell us who’s doing it and who the contributors are, and we’re fine.’”
Though that ad doesn’t say to vote for those candidates, it promotes them just before the election, so it qualifies as an “electioneering communication” and must be reported. That clause was added to Idaho’s disclosure laws in 2005.
Hurst said voters who are concerned about any particular campaign message can check with the Secretary of State’s office for contact information for the group. “That’s why we have the disclosure on there saying who paid for it,” he said. “They can find out who’s behind it.”
The Kootenai County mailing says it’s from “Idaho Reagan Republicans, PAC, Zipporah David, treasurer.” David didn’t return a phone call.
Alltus said he’s been out of the country for the past six weeks and wasn’t involved with the flier, but expects the new group to become increasing active. “We’re going to become the political Reagan Republicans in Kootenai County,” he said.