BOISE – The Idaho Democratic Party on Friday said the state should investigate a publication purporting to be a conservative newspaper because they argue it is really a cleverly disguised political campaign mailer.
In a letter sent to Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, the party is requesting his office look into a publication known as “The Idahoan,” which included more than 40 pages spread over two sections. The letter also demands that Denney should not be involved in the investigation because the publication’s co-editor and publisher Lou Espito, a longtime political consultant, has close ties to the Republican politician.
The periodical states that it is “written by conservatives” designed to serve as a voter guide to the upcoming May 15 primary election. The publication has endorsements of far-right candidates, advertisements from conservative groups like Idaho Chooses Life and editorials criticizing so-called “moderate” Republicans.
Most notably, the publication is sprinkled with multiple factual errors ranging from informing voters the wrong day to vote to misspelling names of candidates, to candidates misidentified in photos. It says it will only be published before an election.
“This trickery and deceptiveness cannot be tolerated by your office, and The Idahoan and its backers should be investigated to ensure that all election and campaign laws have been complied with,” wrote Sam Dotters-Katz, the party’s attorney.
Espito is currently the chair of the Idaho Land political action committee, which has made several expensive independent expenditures to Denney’s campaigns in the past.
Espito did not immediately return a request for comment on The Idahoans’ website.
Officials with the Idaho Democratic Party argue “The Idahoan” is an attempt to circumvent campaign and election laws by improperly classifying it as a newspaper. Newspapers do not have to comply with the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws, meaning they do not have to disclose their donors.
The secretary of state’s office did not immediately return a request for comment, but had previously said they were verifying if the publication qualified as a newspaper.
The business’ name used to be owned by Wayne Hoffman, head of the libertarian-leaning Idaho Freedom Foundation, but Hoffman terminated that business on April 19. That day, Republican Patrick Malloy, who briefly served as a substitute lawmaker in 2012, filed to use the same name.
“The importance of these election and campaign laws cannot be overstated, and an investigation into whether any of these laws have been violated with this political mailer is crucial to the integrity of Idaho’s electoral process,” Dotters-Katz wrote in the letter.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day's top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter