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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.
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.
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.”
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 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.”
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
4th District Judge Mike Wetherell, after taking close to an hour of arguments from both sides in the secret-donations case, said he's going to try to have his opinion out by 5 p.m. today. “I don't know whether I'll make it, but I'm going to attempt to,” he said. He added that the parties are “going to run out of here to the Supreme Court as soon as the opinion's done anyway, I'm sure,” and Christ Troupis, attorney for Education Voters of Idaho, laughed heartily.
Asked afterward, he said if the secretive group that ran statewide TV ads backing Propositions 1, 2 and 3 doesn't prevail today in its bid to head off the Secretary of State's demands that it reveal the sources of the money for the campaign under the Idaho Sunshine Law, he will appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court. “These are important issues,” Troupis said. “This needs to be a considered decision.”
He maintained that EVI, which was formed on the same day and by the same people as a political committee that placed the TV ads, is akin to the Idaho Statesman newspaper or Micron Corp. in engaging in politics - the newspaper through endorsing candidates, and Micron in donating corporate funds to a PAC. But Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane argued that EVI is different, and that its activities show a clear effort to evade the Sunshine law and avoid disclosure. “There is a need for disclosure. The public has a right to know,” Kane told the court. “This is the court's opportunity to let that sun shine.”
The secret-donations case has now been assigned to a new state judge and a new hearing date and time set. Fourth District Judge Mike Wetherell will hear from both sides Monday at 1:30, on the state's motion for a court order forcing Education Voters of Idaho to disclose the source of the more than $200,000 it collected for a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the November ballot, the “Students Come First” school reform measures. EVI has maintained it's exempt from the state Sunshine Law's requirement to disclose its contributors; the state strongly disagrees, and is seeking disclosure before the fast-approaching Nov. 6 election.
Secret-donations case bounced back to state court, but today’s hearing is off - EVI wants a new judge
Here's an update from AP reporter John Miller: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― A lawsuit to force a group touting public schools chief Tom Luna's education overhaul to reveal still-secret financiers is back in state court. The group, Education Voters of Idaho, sought a shift to federal court, to help it fight Secretary of State Ben Ysursa's demands. But on Friday, Ysursa's attorney and the group's lawyer, Christ Troupis, signed papers agreeing to contest the matter in 4th District Court. Even so, a hearing on Ysursa's lawsuit that had been set for Friday at 1:30 p.m. has been postponed ― and the original state judge removed from the case. Ysursa demands EVI disclose names of donors of more than $200,000 to broadcast ads promoting Luna's education changes before the Nov. 6 election. Troupis argues his group has the right to conceal donors' identities.
Bob Cooper, spokesman for the Idaho Attorney General's office, said, “My understanding is that the other side wants a different judge.” No new hearing date has yet been set. “But they are talking,” Cooper said, “and they're trying to get a new judge named and get a hearing set for Monday.”
The state of Idaho has filed a motion in federal court to remand the secret-donations case back to state court, after attorney Christ Troupis, representing Education Voters of Idaho, filed a motion yesterday to remove the case to federal court. Troupis claimed it should go there because the issue involves the First Amendment and 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In legal documents filed in federal court this morning, the Idaho Attorney General's office writes that “not one word” of the Secretary of State's complaint against the secretive group was grounded in the 1st Amendment, the 14th Amendment, “or any other provision of federal law. The substantive law to be applied was the Idaho Sunshine Initiative found at Idaho Code 67-6601.” 4th District Judge Deborah Bail had scheduled a hearing for 1:30 p.m. today in state court on the state's bid for a court order forcing EVI to disclose its funding sources. It's now unclear whether that hearing will take place today or not.
The group funneled more than $200,000 in anonymous donations into statewide TV ads in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the November ballot, and is refusing Secretary of State Ben Ysursa's demand that it disclose the donors under Idaho's Sunshine Law. You can read the state's latest filing here.
The state's lawyers argue that EVI is wrongly attempting to use the process of removing the case to federal court to delay disclosure until after the election, which is just 11 days away. “Defendants should not be able to use the processes of Federal District Court removal to postpone their day of reckoning under Idaho law until after the general election is over,” they write. They also argue that federal law clearly allows removal only when federal issues are cited in the original complaint, not when the defendant cites a federal issue in its defense.
At the Idaho Statesman, Dan Popkey writes about Secretary of State Ben Ysursa's attempt to protect Idaho's sunshine law by seeking disclosure of financial donors to Luna Law propositions:
On top of ignoring popular will, EVI, led by Gov. Butch Otter’s two-time campaign manager, Debbie Field, is attacking Ysursa, Idaho’s top vote-getter. In 2002 and 2010, Ysursa outpolled every other contested candidate, averaging 76 percent of the vote in those two contests. In 2006, he was unopposed. In what appears a desperate attempt to keep secret embarrassing information about the contributions, Field is linking Ysursa, a lifelong Republican, with teachers unions the campaign calls “thugs.” “Although efforts by the Secretary of State, the union and its allies have temporarily chilled our ability to fulfill our mission, we won’t back down,” wrote Field and EVI spokesman John Foster in an op-ed Monday. More here.
Question: Do you want to know who's funding the pro-Luna Law side?
Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey has a column today entitled “Don't mess with Big Ben,” in which he notes that backers of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 are taking on the state's most popular Republican official by defying his call to disclose their donors for a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of the measures, as Secretary of State Ben Ysursa contends is required under Idaho's Sunshine law. Ysursa was the state's top vote-getter in both 2002 and 2010, out-polling every other contested candidate and averaging 76 percent of the vote.
Popkey writes, “In what appears a desperate attempt to keep secret embarrassing information about the contributions,” the heads of a group dubbed Education Voters of Idaho, Debbie Field and John Foster, are “linking Ysursa, a life-long Republican, with teachers unions the campaign calls 'thugs.' ” In an op-ed piece distributed Monday to Idaho newspapers, Field and Foster wrote, “Although efforts by the Secretary of State, the union and its allies have temporarily chilled our ability to fulfill our mission, we won't back down.” Popkey notes that Ysursa is going after the teachers unions for disclosure as well. Late Monday, Ysursa went to court seeking a judge's order that EVI disclose its donors prior to the election. You can read the full column here.
Popkey reports that Ysursa had private talks with Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, a leading backer of the propositions, to try to get the group to disclose its contributors. “This should have been vetted a lot more than it was,” Ysursa told Popkey. “Everybody's antenna should have gone up when they're going to give money anonymously.”
Idaho's Secretary of State went to court today, seeking a court order to make a defiant secret-donations group reveal the source of more than $200,000 spent on statewide campaign commercials backing three controversial school-reform measures. “The voters made it clear, when they passed the Sunshine initiative, that public disclosure is an essential element of Idaho elections,” Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said in a statement. “The citizens want to know where the money comes from and how it's spent. That's been the policy and the law of this state for 38 years. My job is to enforce that law.”
You can read Ysursa's full statement here, and read the state's 13-page complaint here, filed today in 4th District Court in Ada County; read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Idaho's Sunshine law, enacted by voter initiative in 1974, says its purpose is “to promote openness in government and avoiding secrecy by those giving financial support to state election campaigns and those promoting or opposing legislation.”
Three organizations - the Idaho Education Association, the National Education Association, and the League of Conservation Voters - have been sent letters from the Idaho Attorney General's office asking them to report the sources of their contributions that they collected and then passed along to political committees. Each of the three letters contains this statement:
“Recent inquiries in Idaho have brought to the forefront the practices of organizations that collect donations from individuals and that make substantial lump sum contributions to political committees, but do not themselves report their contributions as political committees. After reviewing the relevant laws, the Secretary of State's office has come to the conclusion that organizations that 'bundle' donations for contributions to other political committees are themselves political committees. We are writing several such organizations at this time to inform them of their reporting obligations under Idaho law, which have not been clearly enunciated in the past.”
The letters note that the NEA donated $1.06 million to the “Vote No on Props 1,2,3” campaign; the IEA made in-kind contributions of $180,021 to the same campaign; and the League of Conservation Voters contributed $15,000 to Conservation Voters for Idaho Action Fund. All three groups are being asked to “please promptly file the required reports.”
Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the developments so far today on the secret-donations group, Education Voters of Idaho, and its vow to step back up its campaign in favor of three Idaho school reform ballot measures without disclosing who's funding it. “We won't back down,” Education Voters of Idaho co-founders John Foster and Debbie Field said in a news release.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said he has no problem with the group conducting whatever campaign activities it wishes - as long as it complies with the state's campaign finance disclosure laws. “I commend them for their involvement,” Ysursa said. “All we're after is disclosure of contributors. … We're out to enforce the provisions of the state's Sunshine laws.”
Last week, the group offered to refund the $200,000-plus in contributions rather than disclose the donors, but the state today deemed that unacceptable. “The money has been received, and the money has already been spent,” Ysursa said. “It's hard to undo that.” He said, “We think our law matters. … Pre-election disclosure is crucial.”
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is debunking the false claim that the federal government has transferred authority to count 2012's ballots in Spain. Ysursa said he was questioned about the rumor last week after at an Ada County Republican breakfast and responded with a joke. “I just chuckled and said, 'Well, the Basques have been counting 'em for years — ever since Pete came in,'” Ysursa said, referring to fellow Basque and predecessor, Pete Cenarrusa who was Idaho's chief election official from 1967-2002. But Ysursa, a Republican, told me today that assuring public confidence in the integrity of voting is a serious matter. He dug into the issue after I inquired on behalf of a reader/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Why do people believe stuff like this?
Kootenai County Clerk Cliff Hayes has withdrawn his lawsuit against the city of Coeur d'Alene, seeking to clarify the deadline date for the attempted recall of Coeur d'Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem and three council members, Deanna Goodlander, Woody McEvers and Mike Kennedy. Acting on behalf of Hayes, Prosecutor Barry McHugh wrote to Coeur d'Alene counsel Michael L. Haman that Hayes was swayed by an opinion issued by Secretary of State Ben Ysursa on May 1. Ysursa said that a city recall attempt, including verification of signatures by the clerk's office, must be complete within 75 days (June 19, in this case). According to McHugh's letter, Hayes plans to turn over all verified signatures by the June 19 deadline but will continue to count additional signatures beyond that deadline to complete his duty (in case the law is interpreted differently than Ysursa suggests). You can read McHugh's letter & supporting documents here.
Question: Does this mean the community's conspiracy theorists will say that Hayes has gone over to the other side?