Beware the last-minute campaign message.
On the eve of the Idaho primary that will determine many of the state’s top officeholders, the divisions in the Republican Party have led to recriminations of dirty tricks and deception.
The quarreling factions are attempting to capitalize on the GOP faithful’s affinity for the late President Ronald Reagan. The result: a confusing jumble of similar names albeit with competing visions of who should lead the state.
Because Idaho politics are dominated by the Republican Party, today’s primary is the election that matters most and all but determines who will win in the fall.
Jeff Ward, who heads the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans, wants a criminal investigation into another GOP group that he said copied his group’s name in a campaign mailer complete with a slate of endorsements he opposes.
This competing group also calls itself “Kootenai County Reagan Republicans,” along with “Idaho Reagan Republicans, PAC.” And it is urging voters to cast ballots for Ward’s opponent for an open legislative seat vacated by retiring Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls.
Jeff Alltus, vice president of this new group, said Reagan’s name has been besmirched.
“The Reagan Republicans, the old ones, they just sold out,” he said. So his group decided several years ago to take over the Reagan Republican name. And they filed business papers with the state.
“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 shot back, accusing Alltus’ group of trying to confuse voters: “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.”
Ward’s group did not mail an endorsement flier this year as it is only pushing four candidates: Reps. Ed Morse, Luke Malek and Kathy Sims, and himself.
The new PAC’s mailing endorses challengers to Morse and Malek and other legislators. And it backs a tea party slate for top state offices, most notably Russ Fulcher for governor over incumbent Gov. Butch Otter.
On the front of its flier, the group led by Alltus 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 properly discloses its donors and spending, it likely will have complied with state disclosure rules.
“We don’t regulate content,” chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst said. “All Idaho’s Sunshine Law requires is disclosure.”
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 mailing, but expects the new group to become increasingly active.
“We’re going to become the political Reagan Republicans in Kootenai County,” he said.