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Ysursa joins Gallatin Public Affairs

Retired longtime Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is joining Gallatin Public Affairs, where he will be “of counsel.” That’s similar to positions other longtime former elected officials have taken with the regional firm, from former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus to former Portland Mayor Vera Katz.  In a news release from Gallatin, Ysursa said his work for Gallatin will complement his ongoing involvement in a variety of civic and community organizations. “I know and respect many members of the Gallatin team and appreciate their commitment to bipartisanship and common sense problem solving,” Ysursa said. You can read the firm’s full announcement here.

Well-wishers honor Ysursa at Capitol ceremony

Close to 150 people gathered in the rotunda of the state Capitol today to offer their well-wishes to longtime Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who is retiring after 12 years as Idaho’s elected secretary of state and 40 years in the office. Here, folks are lined up down the Capitol’s hallway for a chance to congratulate Ysursa. “He is one of the most outstanding public servants in Idaho’s history, in my opinion,” said former Gov. Phil Batt, who joined the crowd. “He not only did his job well, but he sets a good tone for the entire state.”

Gov. Butch Otter, who’s known Ysursa for 50 years, addressed the crowd, saying, “He’s done that office a tremendous amount of good in credibility and transparency.” Otter said both of Ysursa and his mentor and predecessor, the late Pete Cenarrusa, “Whenever I got an answer from Ben (or Pete) … I never went anyplace else. … We all need to strive for that kind of credibility and that kind of reputation. … His values are the core Idaho values.”

Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones said, “I think he’s done a superb job.” State Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said, “Few people have had as much impact as Ben has in terms of how elections have occurred. That’s one of the very most fundamental rights … and Ben has been on the forefront of defending that for decades.”

Longtime Statehouse reporter Quane Kenyon, now retired, said, “Ben and Pete go together in my mind, because they were a tremendous amount of help to people who cover elections in this state. You never had any doubt that anything they told you would be true.”

Said Bruce Newcomb, former speaker of the Idaho House and now government relations chief for Boise State University, said, “It’s been really a pleasure to serve with somebody who’s so honorable and non-partisan, and upheld the integrity of the office that Pete Cenarrusa put together. … He set the mark high.”

Ysursa himself said, “It’s kind of bittersweet and kind of nostalgic.” He said, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Pete Cenarrusa. They don’t come better than Pete and Freda.” Ysursa also invited folks to Leku Ona later in the day for drinks and reminiscences. “It’s been my honor and privilege to serve the people of the state of Idaho,” he said.

A large cake served to the well-wishers was emblazoned, “Thank you for 40 years of service, Congratulations Ben. Best wishes on your retirement,” with the three words of Ysursa’s longtime campaign slogan, “Fairness,” “Efficiency” and “Service,” flanking the frosted message.

Ysursa: ‘It’s been a good run’

After 40 years in state government, Ben Ysursa has some strong opinions about how things ought to work in Idaho – and how, on occasion, they have. For example, when both of the state's political parties came together, working side by side, they successfully passed a ballot measure to create the College of Western Idaho, now the state's fastest-growing community college.

“It was just gratifying to see it,” Ysursa said. “We need to get a cause like that again, that we can all agree on and go forward with. … It was a good joint effort to see how things can work when politics is out of it, so to speak.”

Another example he points to is election-day voter registration. Idaho’s one of just eight states that allows voters to register at the polls on Election Day. The reason: When Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act in 1994, it required states to follow an array of new federal rules about voter registration, including keeping voters on the rolls for eight years even if they don’t vote.

“Idaho was going to have some real out-of-date lists and things of that nature,” Ysursa said. But Ysursa, an attorney and then chief deputy secretary of state, discovered that if Idaho enacted election-day registration, it’d be exempt from all the other rules.

“It was: Do we have a federal mandate, or do we want to run our own elections?” Ysursa recalled. Both parties liked the idea, he said. “Both Republicans and Democrats thought election-day registration was a good idea, was going to get more of their folks registered. Our office and the clerks saw it as a way of making Idaho run Idaho elections, and not have the federal intrusion.” You can read my full Sunday story here at spokesman.com on Ysursa’s reflections on his career, as he prepares to retire from office as the state’s longtime Secretary of State.

Ysursa: ‘Honor and privilege to serve’

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa says he’s attended more than 400 state Land Board meetings in the past 40 years; he’s retiring at the end of his current term and participated in his final one today. He lauded the board for sticking to its constitutional mission: “That is the No. 1 goal of the Land Board is to maximize income for the long term for our beneficiaries under Article 9, Section 8 of the Constitution,” Ysursa said. The largest of those beneficiaries is Idaho’s K-12 public schools.

“I think we should never forget that the most valuable asset in the state of Idaho are its people, those are the ones we work for,” Ysursa said. “There’s also ones we work with, so I want to thank the Department of Lands staff over the years for the good work that they’ve done. Director (Tom) Schultz and others have really focused in on that mandate, again, it’s all about getting money for the beneficiaries. It’s been my honor and privilege to serve, and I appreciate it.”

Schultz presented both outgoing Land Board members – Ysursa and state schools Supt. Tom Luna – with paintings of Priest Lake, in memory of the board’s long dealings with cottage sites on the lake.

Ysursa on advice to Denney: ‘Folks will be watching’

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who accepted the 2014 Dottie & Ed Stimpson Award for Civic Engagement from the City Club of Boise today, asked what advice he has for incoming Secretary of State-elect Lawerence Denney. “We chatted, he’s called,” Ysursa said. “I like to be here and get awards and all this and that’s great, but the staff is what does all the work. … I think the key part is keep as many of the staff as possible, and he is going to do that.” Ysursa noted that Denney is planning to keep his current chief deputy, Tim Hurst, and the staff.

“My advice to him is stay the course,” Ysursa said, when it comes to elections. “I do have a lot of advice on the Land Board, and the federal takeover and all that: Folks, it ain’t gonna happen. … It’s a legal non-starter, and you can take that to the bank.”

Ysursa said, “The other concept is that lots of folks will be watching. Some of us fear the worst, I don’t. I don’t think there’ll be a lot of major changes. If there are, there’ll be people coming out of the woodwork and I’ll be one of ‘em.”

He said, “We need to pass legislation that will improve voter turnout or some way improve us getting into the political process. We don’t need to be exclusionary. Anything that goes that route I will oppose, and other people will too.” He added, “Folks will be watching. An informed citizenry is the ultimate repository of the public will.”

Interestingly, in bestowing the award, the City Club cited three examples of Ysursa’s “dedication to openness and accessibility” in his long career as Idaho’s chief elections officer or chief deputy. Two of the three, when Ysursa defended the independence of the state’s citizen redistricting commission in court against then-House Speaker Denney’s attempt to fire an appointee, and when he unsuccessfully defended the state’s open primary law in court, were cases in which Denney was on the other side.

The third example was Ysursa’s successful legal fight to make a secretive campaign group reveal its donors in the 2012 “Students Come First” referendum campaign; the group, which presented itself as a group of Idaho parents, turned out to be financed by out-of-state millionaires including then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Ysursa, swearing in Idaho senators: ‘We’re all in this together for the people of the state of Idaho’

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, as he stepped forward to swear in the members of the Idaho Senate this morning, said, “Let me say it is a very distinct honor and privilege to be able to swear you in today. … It is a real crowning achievement for me to be asked to do this.” He added, “We’re all in this together – we fight, there’s three branches of government, we fight … but we’re all in this together for the people of the state of Idaho, and I couldn’t be prouder or more humble to do this today.”

Idaho voter participation hits record low

As Idaho certified its official election results on Wednesday, a troubling distinction emerged: This year’s election was the first time ever that less than 40 percent of Idaho’s voting-age population cast ballots in a general election. “Frankly, it was disappointing,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. “We broke through a barrier that we didn’t want to break through.”

The previous low – 40.21 percent of the voting age population – came in the last mid-term election in 2010, as Idaho has continued to see declining voter participation, a trend that’s been steady since 1980.

Idaho’s not alone – Ysursa said the national average turnout this year, in percent of voting-age population, was 37 percent. “It’s abysmal,” he said, “and we need to turn it around.”

Final turnout figures showed that 56.1 percent of Idaho’s registered voters participated in the election. The number of voters registered was roughly equal to that of the last mid-term election in 2010, but there were 12,441 fewer ballots cast. Just 37.59 percent of Idaho’s voting-age population voted in the Nov. 4 election. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Ysursa predicts 58 percent turnout in November, says it should be higher

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is predicting 58 percent turnout in the Nov. 4 general election – that’s 58 percent of registered voters, and is equal to roughly 39 to 40 percent of Idaho’s voting-age population. “It’s not something to write home about,” he said. “I am disturbed, troubled and concerned about the decline in voter participation.”

In a brown-bag luncheon speech to ISU alumni in Boise today, Ysursa said Idaho’s voter turnout has been on a steady decline since the record 1980 election in which Steve Symms defeated Idaho Sen. Frank Church. That trend has continued even though Idaho has removed many obstacles to voting – it’s one of just eight states with election-day registration at the polls, and it now offers no-excuse absentee voting and early voting.

“What is the answer to increasing voter turnout?” Ysursa asked. “I’ve been trying to figure that out for 40 years. … I do know that the process needs to be inclusive and not exclusive.” Click below for more.

Thousands of Idaho high school seniors to participate in Idaho Mock Student Election

More than 3,000 high school seniors are registered for the Idaho Student Mock Election, Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa announced today, and high school government teachers still can register their students through Oct. 30. The mock election, which has been held in even-numbered election years since 2004, will run from Oct. 26-31; students will cast votes for actual statewide candidates on computers in their classrooms.

“I commend all the students and teachers participating in this statewide voting exercise,” Ysursa said. “The mock election experience will encourage our young citizens to become lifelong informed voters. It is gratifying to see students exercise their right to vote and their participation is a strong indication that the democratic process is alive and well in Idaho.”

Results from the mock election will be posted Nov. 3 on the Secretary of State’s website; the exercise allows high school government teachers in Idaho to develop civic education lessons based around the Nov. 4 general election.  For more information, contact the Secretary of State’s office at jmairs@sos.idaho.gov or 334-2852.

Ysursa urges voters to register, marks National Voter Registration Month

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is reminding voters that September is National Voter Registration Month, and urging them to be aware of deadlines for the upcoming Nov. 4 general election. “Participation is the essence of democracy, and I encourage all eligible voters to check their registration status online or with their county clerk before going to the polls in November,” Ysursa said.

His idahovotes.gov website allows voters from anywhere in the state to check their registration status and find their polling place. Anyone who is 18 or older, a U.S. citizen, and a resident in Idaho and in the county for 30 days prior to the election is eligible to vote. People who have recently moved or changed their name need to update their voter registration.

Ysursa noted that Idaho is one of eight states that offer same-day registration at the polls on Election Day. However, voters can save time at the polls by registering early. The deadline for early voter registration for the November election is Oct. 10. You can see Ysursa’s full announcement here.

Ysursa receives Bar award for ‘impartial and fair handling of Idaho elections’

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa has received the “Liberty Bell Award” from the Fourth District Bar Association, presented yesterday by Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick at a “Law Day” celebration. Ysursa was selected for exemplifying the national theme for Law Day this year of “American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters.” Burdick praised Ysursa for his “impartial and fair handling of Idaho elections.” Ysursa said the right to vote is under attack around the world, and he is proud that Idaho is one of the least restrictive states for voting, noting that Idahoans can register and vote on Election Day.

Ysursa is retiring this year after three terms as the state’s chief elections officer; prior to that, he served as chief deputy to then-Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa and has been with the office since 1974.

59% of Idaho voters still unaffiliated as primary election approaches

As Idaho’s May 20 primary election approaches, 59 percent of Idaho’s registered voters remain unaffiliated, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa told a gathering of Idaho Republican Party members this morning at the party’s state headquarters. That means when those voters arrive at the polls, they’ll be free to affiliate with the GOP and vote in the closed Republican primary, or to choose other options, including voting in the Democratic primary or voting the non-partisan ballot only, which includes judicial races. Those who already are affiliated with another party – Democrat, Constitution Party or Libertarian – won’t be able to vote in the GOP primary races.

Anyone who already was registered to vote when Idaho changed its law to allow a closed primary was automatically considered unaffiliated until that voter declares otherwise. Those who didn’t vote in the 2012 primary, which drew only 24 percent turnout of registered voters, remained as unaffiliated. Ysursa said he’d like to see higher turnout. The 2012 primary turnout, he said, was dragged down by Ada County, the state’s most populated county, where only 16 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Currently, in Ada County, 65 percent of voters are unaffiliated. In Kootenai County, it’s 61 percent; Canyon County, 57 percent.

As for turnout this time around, Ysursa said, “We’re thinking it’s going to be in the 27, 28 (percent) range.” He said, “I call it the ‘acid test’ of the closed primary, because we have what I consider some very competitive races going on in the primary.” He said in Idaho, “Getting people registered is not the problem – it’s getting those people who are registered to vote.”

More than a dozen people turned out for Ysursa’s talk, one of a monthly series the party’s been holding, including two of the GOP candidates vying in a four-way primary for Ysursa’s seat – chief deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, and former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise.

Ysursa endorses McGrane for Idaho secretary of state

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa today threw his support to Phil McGrane in the four-way GOP race for the office Ysursa will be retiring from at the end of the year. “After 40 years in this office – three terms as secretary and 28 years as a deputy to Pete Cenarrusa – I kinda have an attachment to that place,” Ysursa told a boisterous crowd of more than 60 McGrane supporters gathered in the Statehouse rotunda. “So I’m very concerned and very interested in who my successor is going to be.”

Ysursa said he’s had lots of inquiries from people, “just out on the street, at the golf course, wherever,” as to which of the candidates is best. “In my opinion, the individual who has best demonstrated to me the requisite skills to be secretary of state … without a doubt is Phil McGrane,” Ysursa said to cheers. Ysursa pointed to McGrane’s years of election experience, as chief deputy Ada County clerk, and his legal background as an attorney (Ysursa, too, is an attorney). McGrane, he said, “possesses the competence, the integrity and the character to lead the secretary of state’s office in the future, and that is why I’m endorsing Phil McGrane for secretary of state.”

The other three GOP candidates are former House Speaker Lawerence Denney of Midvale, former Sen. Mitch Toryanski of Boise and former Sen. Evan Frasure of Pocatello. The winner of the GOP contest in May will face Democratic Rep. Holli Woodings of Boise in November; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

McGrane called the endorsement “very significant,” saying, “We’ve had so much trust in that office. … Ben has been the cornerstone of that for many years. You look at secretary of state offices around the country – they don’t have the same reputation that our secretary of state has. So I think it means a lot to the citizens of Idaho. There’s a reason Ben’s the top vote-getter in the state. I look forward to following in his footsteps.”

The crowd that’s forming to run in GOP primary for Secretary of State…

Here’s a link to my Sunday column on the crowd forming to run in the GOP primary for Secretary of State, now that longtime Secretary of State Ben Ysursa has announced he’ll retire rather than seek another term in 2014.

Those expressing interest so far include former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, who announced even before Ysursa bowed out; Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, an attorney and freshman representative who notes there’s currently no one from North Idaho among Idaho’s top state elected officials; former Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, an attorney, West Point grad and retired Army colonel who’s traveling the state this week to gauge support; chief deputy Ada County clerk Phil McGrane, an attorney and elections specialist who touts his work for transparency; and Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, a three-term state representative and first-term senator who’s a retired Navy man and an advocate for wounded veterans.

Add Malek to the list: Number of potential GOP candidates for Secretary of State grows

Add another name to the list of those pondering a possible run for Idaho Secretary of State now that longtime Secretary of State Ben Ysursa has announced he’ll retire after his current term: Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene. “It’s definitely intriguing,” said Malek, a first-term state representative and former deputy Kootenai County prosecutor. He said supporters have been urging him to run, and part of the appeal is the chance to get someone from North Idaho into the ranks of Idaho’s top state elected officials – currently there are none. “It’s an extremely important position, and I do think I would bring a qualified skill set to it as well,” Malek said.

He listed his law degree; his legislative and electoral experience; his work running an urban renewal agency in Post Falls before he went to law school; and his work with corporations as an attorney; Malek also served as North Idaho regional director for then-Gov. Jim Risch. But the 32-year-old also admitted he’s torn. “I do love where I’m at,” he said. “I have the best constituents in the world, and a job I love back in my home district. … I’m watching to see how the candidates shake out.” Malek is currently director of legal affairs for Heritage Health/Dirne Community Health Center in Coeur d’Alene. A newlywed, he holds degrees from the College of Idaho and the University of Idaho College of Law.

Others who already have expressed interest in the 2014 race from the GOP side are former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, who announced his candidacy even before Ysursa bowed out; former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise; current chief deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane; and current Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian. I’ll have a full rundown in my Sunday column this week.

“I expected some folks to enter into it, and it should be a lively primary,” Ysursa said. “Once the whole field is settled, we’ll see. I’m sure the Democrats will try to run some folks too.” Ysursa, the state’s chief elections offer, said with a grin, “I’ll put ‘em all on the ballot.”

Ysursa won’t seek fourth term as Secretary of State, will retire instead

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa announced this afternoon that he’s decided not to seek a fourth term as Idaho Secretary of State, choosing instead to retire; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Here is Ysursa’s full statement:

“After careful thought and deliberation, I have decided not to seek reelection as Secretary of State, and will retire from public office at the completion of my third term in January 2015. It has been a distinct honor and privilege to serve the great people of the State of Idaho as  Secretary of State and as Deputy Secretary of State for the last four decades but it is time to step down. I would note that my term does not end until 2015 and there are many important issues to face in 2014 pertaining to elections and Land Board issues which will be the focus of my attention. My office has a tradition of fairness, efficiency, and service which will continue throughout the rest of my term. I again thank the people of Idaho for having afforded me the privilege and opportunity to serve them as Secretary of State.”


Catching up: From Denney eyeing higher office to extension of county payments…

Catching up on some of the news from while I was gone over the past week:

DENNEY EYES HIGHER OFFICE:  Former Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, filed initial paperwork to run for Idaho Secretary of State, an office long held by incumbent Ben Ysursa, a Republican; you can read an AP report here on Denney’s move. Ysursa hasn’t said yet whether he’ll be seeking re-election; in an email to Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey, he said, "I intend to make my future plans known within the next few weeks. Until then I really have no comment."

STATE SURPLUS BIGGER THAN REPORTED? Former state chief economist Mike Ferguson has analyzed state revenues and concluded that in an apples-to-apples comparison, Idaho’s surplus is actually bigger than has been reported. At the close of fiscal year 2013 on June 30, the state’s general fund had an ending balance of $165.3 million, $105.3 million higher than expected at the end of the 2013 legislative session. After transfers to reserve accounts and taking into account law changes, Ferguson concludes, “The current DFM General Fund revenue forecast for FY 2014, at 2.1% growth over FY 2013 revenue, appears to be unduly pessimistic. At 3.1% revenue growth the ongoing General Fund surplus estimate would be $74.1 million, and at 4.1% revenue growth the ongoing surplus estimate would be $111.6 million.” You can read his full analysis here.

ONE INSURER WITHDRAWS: The only for-profit insurer scheduled to offer plans on Idaho’s exchange withdrew on Sept. 26; with Altius' exit, Idaho's remaining insurers will offer 61 plans for individuals, 55 small group health plans for small business, 13 individual dental plans and 17 small group dental plans. You can read about that move here.

COUNTY PAYMENTS EXTENDED: A one-year extension of the county payments under the Secure Rural Schools Act, the remainder of the Craig-Wyden law that has been offsetting millions lost to rural counties and school districts since federal timber harvests fell, cleared Congress and headed to the president’s desk – tucked into a bill about helium. “Passage of the Helium Stewardship Act is a victory for the entire state of Idaho,” said Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo; rural schools and counties would get $270 million under the bill. “This fix does not change the need for a long-term solution that provides a consistent mechanism for the federal government to meet its obligation to rural communities accommodating federal lands, and I will continue to work with Senator Risch and all my colleagues to achieve this objective,” Crapo said; you can read his full statement here

Political fireworks fly at Land Board over school endowment distribution

Political fireworks flew at the state Land Board this morning, as, for the second time in five years, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna sought to increase the endowment distribution to public schools beyond the recommendation of the Endowment Fund Investment Board. The board is recommending fiscal year 2015 distribution increases to seven of the eight endowments, but not to the largest – public schools – instead holding schools at the $31 million distribution level it’s been held at for several years. The reason: Since the 2010 board decision to give schools a one-time additional $22 million distribution, the reserve fund for the schools hasn’t met the goal of five years worth of payments; it’s now just over three years, and dropped to two years after the 2010 extra payment.

But Luna said the recommendation means departing from the board’s policy of distributing 5 percent of the three-year rolling average of the endowment to the schools each year, and would drop schools next year to about a 4 percent distribution.  Aside from the $22 million one-time boost, schools have been held at the $31 million level for five years now, Luna said, even as the number of public school students has grown by 15,000.

“We’ve never had to reduce the balance of the reserve in order to meet distributions,” Luna argued. “And we just went through the worst recession that I think we’ve seen. And now we see a recovery. So I would argue that we should distribute the 5 percent of the rolling three-year average, per our policy. We still increase the amount in reserve in the years going forward. … It would mean an increase in the distribution of about $5.6 million.”

Luna said school districts are suffering now. “I guess what concerns me is that while we’re building our reserve, school districts are depleting theirs, and … many of them have no reserves left at all. They literally go from state distribution to state distribution.”

Luna made a motion to grant the increase, but it died for lack of a second. Gov. Butch Otter said he just heard Luna’s proposal last night. “I’d like to see us delay it at least until the September board meeting,” he said. Luna responded, “I did sent you a letter Friday – I know you were putting out fires.” (You can read Luna's letter here, obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law.)

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said, “A number of years ago we addressed this issue, and really, it was part of a political ambush that was unleashed on the Land Board. And at that time my view was that we needed to send this matter to the Endowment Fund Investment Board for their analysis and report back to us.” Wasden said for the Land Board to exercise its fiduciary duty to the endowment, as required by the state Constitution, it’s incumbent on the board to get the investment board’s input before making such a decision.

Secretary of State Ben Ysursa recalled “the way we agonized over the $22 million,” and noted that the 2010 extra payment was actually his motion – Luna had wanted more than twice that amount. “I reiterated that was a one-time deviation from the recommendation of the endowment fund,” Ysursa said. “That term ‘one-time’ continues to stick in my mind. But I think the superintendent has raised some good points.” He noted that the 2010 decision was a tense 3-2 vote.

Luna responded, “If I understand the motion, maybe not all the rhetoric that went with it, it’s that we will approve the distributions for all but public schools, and public schools we will set a distribution at our September meeting.” Wasden responded, “That is correct.”

Luna said he’s proposing sticking to the state policy, regarding a 5 percent distribution of the rolling three-year average, not violating it. But Ysursa noted that there’s also a policy targeting 5 years worth of distributions as the reserve level. “We’ve got two competing policies, is what’s going on,” he said.

The board then voted unanimously for Wasden’s motion, putting off the decision on the public school distribution to its September meeting.

Ysursa: ‘We do think this will send a message’

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa says Education Voters of Idaho has now complied with the state's Sunshine Law, by filing the required forms revealing its donors. "This seems to be in total compliance with what we wanted, and of course the judge's order," he said. "This is what we always wanted, we wanted disclosure. Let the people decide with all the information in front of them, who gave what to a ballot measure committee. That's certainly required by the Sunshine Law that 78 percent of the folks voted for way back in 1974."

He noted that other states are grappling with similar issues. California is currently trying to get pre-election disclosure on an $11 million donation, Ysursa said. "We're watching the California issue very, very closely from a legal point of view." He said, "We can always fine-tune our law to make it crystal-clear." But Ysursa said Idaho has the right, as a matter of state sovereignty, to regulate campaign finances as it chooses and require disclosure.

"We do think this will send a message," Ysursa said. "This office takes its duties very seriously on campaign disclosure, and when we came up across this scenario, we felt compelled that we had to go into court and follow the law." He added, "I just hope we all get back to what's very important, and that's Nov 6 and get people out to vote."

Overall, the campaign finance reports filed by Education Voters of Idaho today showed that most of the donations were large and many were from out of state, including the marquee donation of $200,000 from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Of the group’s 25 donors, 10 were from outside Idaho; the out-of-state donors’ total of $320,000 in contributions nearly matched the $321,000 from in-state donors. Twelve of the 25 donors were businesses or organizations; 13 were individuals. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

EVI leaders: ‘We are proud of our donors’

John Foster and Debbie Field of Education Voters for Idaho submitted a letter to Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa when they filed their required campaign finance disclosure forms for the group this afternoon. In it, they said they "strongly disagree" with 4th District Judge Mike Wetherell's decision ordering them to disclose, but, "we have decided to fully comply with his order rather than immediately file an appeal." They said they are still considering whether to file an appeal.

"We want to make it clear to you and to the public that our actions were based solely on what we believe are our duties to our donors," the two wrote, "and our duty to protect our rights as a corporation under Idaho code, the Idaho Constitution and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. We are proud of our donors and humbled by their strong support for long-term education reform in Idaho." You can read the full letter here.

Albertson Foundation: ‘It wasn’t us’

The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation has released this statement: "The donation made by Joe B. Scott to the Education Voters of Idaho fund was made by Mr. Scott as a private, concerned citizen. The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation was not involved in any way in the contribution and no Foundation funds were used."

Click below for the remainder of the statement, which focuses on the foundation's vision of "limitless learning for all Idahoans."

New York mayor’s office doesn’t know why Bloomberg gave, and they’re ‘wall to wall’ with storm

Asked why the mayor of New York donated $200,000 to an Idaho school reform ballot measure campaign, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg's press office said, "I don't know the answer. … We're a little wall-to-wall right now." The city is in the midst of coping with the giant superstorm that's hit the east coast. "That's a separate operation, the mayor's private money," the spokesman said. "This is city hall. … I will pass this along and see if I can have someone get back to you."

Link to the full reports…

Here's a link to the full campaign finance reports filed this afternoon by Education Voters of Idaho, which show that the group has collected more than $641,000 in until-now anonymous donations to back state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's "Students Come First" school reforms. The two biggest givers, by far, were New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, $200,000, and Albertson's heir Joe Scott, $250,000. Others who gave $10,000 or more included John D. Bryan of Lake Oswego, Ore., $10,000; Intermountain Gas Co., $10,000; Idaho Forest Group, $10,000; F. Friess of Jackson, Wyo., $25,000; Republican Governors Public Policy Committee, $50,000; M3 Eagle LLC, $10,000; Hagadone Hospitality, $15,000; and Clear Springs Foods of Buhl, $10,000.

Mayor of New York among big givers to Idaho secret-donors school reform campaign

Education Voters of Idaho, acting under a judge's order, filed its campaign finance disclosure report this afternoon, revealing the until-now anonymous donors to the group's statewide TV ad campaign in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the school reform measures. Among them: $200,000 from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and $250,000 from Boise's Joseph B. Scott.

Michael Bloomberg is the third-term mayor of New York, an independent, a former Republican and former Democrat, and one of the nation's richest men. He is pro-choice, pro-gun control, and made national waves this year with his move to ban the sale of sugary soft drinks in servings bigger than 16 ounces on public health grounds. He's clashed with the city's public employee unions, including during a transit workers strike in 2005, and as mayor took direct control over the city's public schools, where he's pushed for reforms.

Joseph B. Scott is the grandson of the late grocery store magnate Joe Albertson; he's the chairman of the board of the J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation, which has donated millions toward public education projects in Idaho, from funding the Idaho Education Network to giving grants to Idaho school districts. The foundation ran full-page ads in newspapers across Idaho in 2011 promoting state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's "Students Come First" school reform plan. Scott also made millions with his own investments in for-profit online education firm K12 Inc., according to the Associated Press, even as the family foundation handed out grants in Idaho to increase online learning.

Note: Despite the time stamp on this post, I didn't get this early. My newspaper's servers are in the Pacific time zone, so the time stamps show a time an hour earlier than the Mountain time I operate in here in Boise.

Awaiting the big reveal…

Idaho political watchers are awaiting the big reveal today - when a secretive group, under a court order, reveals the source of more than $200,000 it collected to underwrite statewide TV ads in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the school reform measures. The rumor mill is going wild, but nothing's been filed yet. A judge has ordered Education Voters of Idaho to file its disclosure report with the Idaho Secretary of State's office by 3 p.m.

Meanwhile, click below for AP reporter John Miller's report on how Idaho isn't alone in scrutinizing how campaign disclosure laws apply to nonprofit groups.

Secret-donations group apparently giving in, will disclose donors tomorrow

Education Voters of Idaho, the group that's been fighting to keep secret its contributors who financed a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, apparently has given in and will reveal its donors tomorrow in accordance with a court order. "That's what it appears," said Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst. "They said they were going to file, yes."

Today, the group filed its C1 form, the initial reporting form required of political committees. It shows that EVI's chair is Debbie Field and its treasurer is Cordell Chigbrow. That information is identical to that reported for Parents for Education Reform, the group that purchased the TV ads after getting $200,000 handed over from EVI. Yesterday, 4th District Judge Mike Wetherell ordered the group to disclose the sources of its funds under the state's Sunshine Law, and to do so by 3 p.m. on Wednesday.  "We're hopeful that they're going to do what the judge ordered and file the other reports," Hurst said. If so, "They'll be online immediately."

Attorney Christ Troupis had indicated he was considering appealing Wetherell's order to the Idaho Supreme Court, but no appeal was received there by the close of business today. Troupis didn't return a reporter's call this afternoon.

Meanwhile, Parents for Education Reform has filed its campaign finance report, showing that it got another $100,000 from EVI on Oct. 2, but refunded the payment back to the group  on Oct. 19. The PFER report also shows contributions of $50,000 from U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and $100,000 from StudentsFirst, a Sacramento, Calif.-based group launched by former Washington, D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee whose mission is "transformative reform" of schools. As for its campaign activities in October, PFER reported spending another $100,000 Oct. 2 on broadcast advertising, on top of the $200,000 it spent earlier from EVI funds.

The ‘selective enforcement’ argument…

Among the unsuccessful defenses that the secretive "Education Voters of Idaho" offered yesterday in court for its position that it shouldn't have to disclose its donors was "selective enforcement." Attorney Christ Troupis noted that John Foster, co-executive director of the group, submitted an affidavit to which he attached 215 examples he dug up from over the years of corporations that donated to political committees in Idaho without turning the corporations themselves into political committees that fall under campaign finance laws. Among them: The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation and Micron Technology.

Idaho Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane responded, "The reason why corporations like Micron and Farm Bureau aren't under the microscope is because they weren't taking contributions." He noted that Foster and partner Kate Haas, in affidavits submitted to the court, "both acknowledge that Education Voters of Idaho solicited contributions." Kane also told the court, "A political committee doesn't necessarily have to be a corporation, but a corporation most certainly can be a political committee."

Here's what 4th District Judge Mike Wetherell had to say about the "selective enforcement" argument: "I will point out that the issues that are addressed here, from my standpoint, are legal issues. I can appreciate Mr. Troupis' frustration with the arguments he's made related to selective enforcement or that they have been singled out, but as the Secretary of State is fully aware, if someone is dissatisfied with the way he is administering the law, the solution is at the ballot box - it is not in this courtroom. And so that is not going to be a major factor that this court is going to be looking at."

Judge on secret donations: ‘Idaho’s law is clear and unambiguous’

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today's court decision upholding Idaho's Sunshine Law and ordering a secret-donations group to reveal its donors by Wednesday. Fourth District Judge Mike Wetherell ordered Education Voters of Idaho to disclose its donors by 3 p.m. on Halloween. The group must “file all required further reports when required or face sanctions,” the judge wrote. Possible sanctions include fines and penalties contained in the state's Sunshine Law. In addition, anyone flouting a court order could be held in contempt by the court, and even jailed until they comply with the order.

Christ Troupis, attorney for EVI, said he's reviewing the decision and considering an appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who sued to enforce the Sunshine Law's disclosure requirements, pointed to a clause in the law that forbids groups from concealing the true source of funds used in campaigns. Wetherell cited that clause from the law twice in his decision, once in bold-face. "Idaho law is clear and unambiguous," he wrote. "There can be no anonymous contributions either in favor of or in opposition to Propositions 1, 2 and 3." He also pointed to a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in a 2010 Washington case, Human Life of Washington Inc., that upheld that state's similar disclosure requirement.

Judge orders EVI to disclose donors

Fourth District Judge Mike Wetherell has ruled in favor of the state of Idaho in its lawsuit seeking disclosure of the secret donors to a campaign against three Idaho ballot measures; Wetherell ordered Education Voters of Idaho to disclose its donors by 3 p.m. this Wednesday, Halloween. The group must "file all required further reports when required or face sanctions," the judge wrote. You can read his 19-page decision here.

Wrote Wetherell, "A failure by the Defendants to follow the requirements of the Sunshine Initiative is in violation of the rights of Idaho citizens as provided by law, and a failure to grant injunctive relief at this time would permit the law to be violated with impunity and would result in irreparable harm to the voters of Idaho whose rights under the Sunshine Initiative the Secretary of State is charged with protecting."