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Trib: Idaho Embraces D-Minus Grade

On the same day state Sen. Monty Pearce (pictured), R-New Plymouth, defended himself against charges of lining his pockets in office, the state got a near-failing score on a national measure of corruption. Think there's a connection? Pearce, a 14-year legislative veteran, is at the vortex of efforts to open Idaho to oil and natural gas development. As chairman of the Senate Resources and Conservation Committee, Pearce oversaw Senate passage of bills that updated the state's oil and gas regulatory framework - without which the fledgling industry in Pearce's backyard would be stalled. The panel also refused to impose more stringent controls on fracking and endorsed stripping counties and cities of their ability to stop or influence oil and gas development in their jurisdictions. All that time, Pearce was sitting on a secret: On Nov. 4, he signed a lease with Snake River Oil and Gas, making him a partner with one of the big players behind the legislation/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. More here.

Question: Does Idaho deserve a D-minus for government corruption risk?

Marty: Denney Covers Up After Hart

Marty Trillhaase/Lewiston Tribune, takes House Speaker Lawerence Denney to task today for not only failing to properly punish state Rep. Phil Hart for his tax dodging/timber stealing ways but also for allowing the ethics process to be closed from the public in the future. Trillhaase writes: “Denney's impotence is the one constant in this mess. Denney had it within his prerogatives to strip the timber-stealing tax scofflaw of all committee assignments - letting him cool his heels on the House floor - until Hart paid his taxes and settled up with the state for the timber.”

Question: Have you changed your view of House Speaker Lawerence Denney as a result of his handling of Rep. Phil Hart's several missteps?

Poll: Lawerence Won’t Punish Hart

  • Thursday Poll: A plurality of 66 of 161 respondents (41%) don’t expect House Speaker Lawerence Denney to punish tax dodger Rep. Phil Hart in any way when they meet next week to discuss a House Ethics Committee recommendation that Hart be stripped of his Revenue & Taxation Committee assignment. Another 55 of 161 (34%) believe Denney will remove Hart from the committee. 31 of 161 (19.25%) voted that Denney will give Hart some sort of slap on the wrist. 9 voted that some other sort of punishment will be given.
  • Weekend Poll: Would you like to see municipal elections turn into partisan races?

Hart’s lawyer can’t appeal ethics ruling

Remember when Rep. Phil Hart’s attorney, Starr Kelso, issued a statement last week charging that the House Ethics Committee’s action against Hart, through its unanimous vote to recommend his removal from the House Revenue & Taxation Committee while he presses his own personal fight against back state income taxes, had “no basis in law or procedure and exceeds the Committee’s authority”? Turns out those claims aren’t going anywhere. Here’s why: “There is no judicial review of this,” said Brian Kane, the deputy attorney general assigned to the Ethics Committee, who attended all its meetings and advised members throughout the process.

“This is a wholly internal procedure of a single chamber of Idaho’s Legislature,” Kane said.  “Courts generally have been extremely resistant to getting into the inner workings of the legislative body, as far as committee assignments and things like that. That would be a really clear violation of the separation of powers, in my opinion.”

Kane outlined for the panel, at both its meetings, the options it had before it: Dismissal of charges, reprimand, censure, or expulsion. “Each of those are recommendations to the full body,” he said. “And they can include within those measures additional recommendations such as removal from a committee or removal from all committees, or different combinations of things that perhaps the speaker or the body would want to invoke against that member.”

Denney: ‘Might be best’ for Hart to exit House Rev & Tax panel

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — House Speaker Lawerence Denney says it “might be the best” for a lawmaker embroiled in a $700,000 tax dispute to be stripped of his assignment on a key legislative tax committee. A seven-member House ethics panel voted Wednesday to recommend Rep. Phil Hart’s removal from the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. Denney told The Associated Press Thursday he won’t make a final decision until December. He first wants to sit down with Hart and discuss the matter. Still, Denney, a Republican from Midvale, said removing Hart from House Revenue and Taxation Committee “might be the best thing.” Before making their removal recommendation, a majority on the ethics committee concluded Hart’s votes didn’t violate conflict of interest rules, and dismissed a charge of abuse of legislative privilege; however, they said his continued service on the tax committee while he presses his personal tax fight did constitute a conflict of interest.

Hart issues response disputing Ethics Committee’s authority to act against him

Idaho Rep. Phil Hart’s attorney, Starr Kelso, has sent out a defiant response to today’s House Ethics Committee decision on Hart’s behalf, arguing that the panel’s decision “has no basis in law or procedure and exceeds the committee’s authority.” That’s not what the Idaho Attorney General’s office advised the ethics committee. You can read Kelso’s statement here; headed, “Phil Hart’s Response to the Idaho Ethics Committee Rulings,” declares, “Since January 2005 Mr. Hart has paid over $120,000 in txes. Mr. Hart believes that when the law is applied to the facts it will be determined that he has overpaid his income taxes.”

Public records, including IRS liens, show that Hart owes $700,000 in back federal and state income taxes, penalties and interest. In a motion for reconsideration to the state Board of Tax Appeals that Kelso provided to the Ethics Committee on Wednesday, he wrote that Hart’s tax woes are “entirely the result of political persecution of Mr. Hart by the IRS.”

Sayler: ‘Cast a black mark on the Legislature’

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the House Ethics Committee hearing today, in which the panel voted unanimously to recommend that Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, be removed from the House Revenue & Taxation Committee while he presses his own personal fight against back state income taxes.

That vote was unanimous, but Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, voted with the panel’s Republican members in an earlier 5-2 vote to dismiss a charge against Hart of abuse of legislative privilege. “I’ve said before I don’t think this is a partisan issue,” Sayler said. “I don’t see that we had a clear standard to judge by, in terms of the immunity clause … when it can be used and when it cannot be used. I certainly thought it was inappropriate, and cast a black mark on the legislative body, and I would hope that Rep. Hart would change his practice, but in terms of a clear violation of that clause, I didn’t see it.”

Sayler said, “From a personal perspective, I do believe his behavior was unethical. But from a legal perspective, I didn’t see we had the justification.”

Ethics Committee to convene today on Hart

The special House Ethics Committee investigating the actions of Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, convenes this afternoon at 2:30 Boise time in the House State Affairs Committee hearing room, East Wing Room 40 in the lower level of the state Capitol, for a telephone conference call meeting. A live audio stream will be available to the public at the Legislature’s website under “Announcements.” Here’s a link to the official notice of the meeting.

Ethics panel sets Sept. 22 meeting on Hart

The special House Ethics Committee that’s investigating ethics complaints against state Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, has set its next meeting for Sept. 22, when the panel will meet at 2:30 p.m. via conference call. A live audio stream of the meeting will be available to the public on the Legislature’s website under “Announcements,” and the meeting will take place in the House State Affairs Committee meeting room, east wing room 40 in the lower level of the state Capitol. At its July meeting, the ethics committee voted 4-3, along party lines, to clear Hart of one of the two charges, conflict of interest. The remaining charge is abuse of legislative privilege. Both involve Hart’s actions as a state lawmaker while pressing his personal fights against both federal and state income taxes, which he contends are unconstitutional.

EOB: Hart to testify to ethics committee

The House Ethics Committee has released its agenda for its Thursday meeting regarding Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol; you can see it here. Hart is scheduled to testify. More here/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise

Hart scheduled to testify to ethics committee

The House Ethics Committee has released its agenda for its Thursday meeting regarding Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol; you can see it here. The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. in the state Capitol with discussion of constitutional provisions and House rules, then include a review of the formal ethics complaint against Hart and of his written response, followed by additional comments and testimony from Hart himself. That’s scheduled to be followed by committee discussion and action. Audio from the meeting will be streamed live on the Internet; the meeting will be in the Capitol’s garden level, east wing, room 40.

EOB: Hart cast deciding votes on tax rules

Idaho Rep. Phil Hart, who has big tax disputes pending over back state and federal income taxes, sat on a three-member legislative subcommittee this year that reviewed new state tax rules for all Idaho taxpayers, and he cast the deciding vote on two of them. Those included a new rule for how the state Tax Commission should handle settlements of more than $50,000 in income tax liability - at a time when Hart was facing an order to pay $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest. Hart never mentioned his case or declared a conflict of interest. More here/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise

Hart cast deciding votes on state tax rules

Idaho Rep. Phil Hart, who has big tax disputes pending over back state and federal income taxes, sat on a three-member legislative subcommittee this year that reviewed new state tax rules for all Idaho taxpayers, and he cast the deciding vote on two of them. Those included a new rule for how the state Tax Commission should handle settlements of more than $50,000 in income tax liability - at a time when Hart was facing an order to pay $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest. Hart never mentioned his case or declared a conflict of interest.
 
A special House Ethics Committee is currently looking into whether Hart had conflicts of interest in the Legislature due to his tax problems, and whether he abused the legislative privilege from arrest or civil process during sessions by invoking it repeatedly to win delays in his state and federal tax cases. Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, who served with Hart on the subcommittee, tried to get two new income tax rules killed because he thought they were too lenient on tax scofflaws. “I would’ve loved to have Phil’s support, because we could’ve defeated the rule,” Burgoyne said. “I had several concerns about it. … I generally take the view that people who get away with not paying their taxes make chumps out of the rest of us.”

Hart said today that he saw no conflict, because his own case had already progressed past the point of a possible settlement. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Also, Hart today sent out a guest editorial entitled “Tax Reform for Idaho,” in which he called for eliminating the income tax. “A tax on wages and salaries is a tax on our right to exist.  It is the feudal system of the old world,” he writes. “We threw off the old world system in 1776, but it crept back in.  Today, it is time to do it again.” You can read his piece here.

Hart To Seek End Of State Income Tax

The northern Idaho lawmaker at the center of a House ethics investigation hopes to introduce legislation next year that would eliminate the state income tax on wages and salaries. Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, said his proposal would bring Idaho’s tax code back in line with what the income tax was originally intended to be: a tax on business and investment profits, rather than on wages. “This issue is fundamental to Idaho’s (economic) revitalization,” Hart said. “I don’t think our economy is going to recover until we figure out how to bring jobs back from overseas. We can’t do anything about that at the state level, but we can make Idaho more attractive than the other 49 states”/William Spence, SR. More here.

Question: What do you make of plans by embattled Rep. Phil Hart to introduce legislation to eliminate the state income tax?

Hart Looks Forward To Being ‘Cleared’

On Twitter, embattled Idaho Rep. Phil Hart has just posted this comment, plus 2 documents: “I thought it would be beneficial for anyone who so chooses, to be able to see the actual documents surrounding the House Ethics Committee and the alleged abuse of my legislative office. The charges are vague and frankly so vague they are difficult to answer. You can see both documents below. I stand firm that I never abused any privilege available to me as an Idaho Representative and I look forward to a thorough investigation and being cleared of these charges.”

Reaction?

Hart’s Tax Woes Add Up To $700K

Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart’s tax problems appear to be worse than previously disclosed. When federal tax liens filed against Hart’s various business entities are combined with the hundreds of thousands in liens the IRS has filed against him personally in his ongoing fight over back income taxes, the third-term Idaho lawmaker faces a total of more than $644,000 in outstanding federal tax liens. A state income tax judgment against him that he’s attempting to appeal pushes that total up to nearly $700,000/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Reaction?

Rep. Hart’s tax woes add up to $700K

Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart’s tax problems appear to be worse than previously disclosed. When federal tax liens filed against Hart’s various business entities are combined with the hundreds of thousands in liens the IRS has filed against him personally in his ongoing fight over back income taxes, the third-term Idaho lawmaker faces a total of more than $644,000 in outstanding federal tax liens. A state income tax judgment against him that he’s attempting to appeal pushes that total up to nearly $700,000.

Hart, who’s facing a state ethics inquiry over the use of his legislative position in his tax fight, said he doesn’t understand how the authorities could think he owes that much. “I don’t even know if I’ve made that much in that period of time,” he said, “so the tax rate must be 100 percent or something.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, plus see the documents.

Hart: My Constituents Back Me Anyway

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Hart said the constitutional immunity from arrest and civil procedures during a legislative session is intended to be a benefit to the public, not to lawmakers.”It allows legislators to focus on the work of their constituents and not get bogged down with other distractions,” he said. “It’s not a privilege for legislators, but a protection for constituents.”Regarding his position on the tax committee, he said, “the reason we have 105 lawmakers is that we want a variety of opinions. I think I bring a point of view to that committee that’s unique. My constituents know my point of view and choose to send me there.”Hart said he was surprised his battle with the tax commission prompted an ethics complaint. Nevertheless, he plans to cooperate with the investigation and respond to whatever specific charges are raised/William L. Spence, Lewiston Tribune

Question: Would Hart be in trouble re: re-election this year, if the Democrats had fielded a candidate to run against him. Or is Hart right in saying, “My constituents know my point of view and choose to see me (to the Legislature)?”

Hart denies ethics charges

Idaho Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, denied the ethics charges against him Wednesday in a formal response to a special House Ethics Committee, and decried the complaint against him for citing “news accounts” and “perceptions.” “I have no hesitancy in accounting for, and defending, all of my actions as an elected representative of District 3,” Hart said in a letter to the committee. “I am, however, concerned that anyone could choose to base an ethics complaints on what ‘appears’ from ‘recent news accounts.’”

Hart is charged with possible abuse of legislative privilege for repeatedly citing the constitutional protection of lawmakers from arrest or civil service during legislative sessions to seek delays in his federal and state income tax fights, and possible conflict of interest for serving on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee while pressing his personal tax fights; the Spokesman-Review reported on Hart’s moves in a series of articles over the past month.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, who filed the complaint against Hart, said, “Certainly there’s a difference of opinion, and I’ll leave it to the Ethics Committee to decide on the appropriateness of the behaviors and whether or how they reflect upon the credibility and authority of the House of Representatives.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and see the complaint against Hart here.

Hart Files Response To Ethics Charges

Phil Hart filed this response with the House Ethics Committee, meeting to discuss his continuing income tax problems: “I want you to know that this part of the process of governance does not minimize the passion I have to serve the people of the 3rd legislative district. I sought this office because I wanted to be in a position to protect our constitutional rights and the liberties of the people. I am seeking re-election now because, with my six years of experience, I feel I can be more effective in attaining those lofty goals. American patriots fight for what is right in the country and reject is what is wrong with the country. This battle for me is no less than fighting for what is right and just in the legislative arena and in the state that I have grown to love. This battle for what is right gives me the opportunity to tell an American story. And tell that story I will.” More from Betsy Russell/Eye On Boise here.

  • Cutline: House Ethics Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, left, visits with committee members Bert Stevenson, R-Rupert, and Bill Killen, D-Boise. (Betsy Russell/Eye On Boise photo)
  • Hart response: You can read Hart’s response in full here.

Question: Satisfied with the response?

Hart: ‘Tell that story I will’

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, has filed his response to a House Ethics Committee’s charges against him; click here to read his response. In an email with his response, Hart wrote, “I want you to know that this part of the process of governance does not minimize the passion I have to serve the people of the 3rd legislative district. I sought this office because I wanted to be in a position to protect our constitutional rights and the liberties of the people. I am seeking re-election now because, with my six years of experience, I feel I can be more effective in attaining those lofty goals. American patriots fight for what is right in the country and reject is what is wrong with the country. This battle for me is no less than fighting for what is right and just in the legislative arena and in the state that I have grown to love. This battle for what is right gives me the opportunity to tell an American story. And tell that story I will.”

Hart, who is unopposed for re-election, simply denies both the charges in his response - that he abused legislative privilege by invoking it repeatedly to seek delays in his state and federal income tax fights, and that he had a conflict of interest in serving on the House Revenue & Taxation Committee while pressing those fights. He also decried the complaint against him for citing “news accounts, appearances and perceptions.”

SR: Hart Panel Must Defend Credibility

Hart has battled both state and federal governments over his personal belief that income taxes are unconstitutional. Like uncounted tax protesters before him, he lost those skirmishes – and relied on his legislative privilege to prolong the time he had to appeal beyond the deadline set by law. He was not being harassed by the crown, or the governor, to interfere with his ability to do his legislative duty. While Hart’s tax clashes continue, the ethical questions surrounding his conduct are appropriately before the Ethics Committee. That bipartisan panel’s task is to defend the Legislature’s integrity and sustain the public’s confidence/Spokesman-Review Editorial Board. More here.

Question: What will the recommention by the House Ethics Committee say about the Idaho Legislature?

Denney Defends Ethic Panel Picks

(House Speaker Lawerence Denney, pictured) thinks Durst should check with House rules before releasing critical comments.  ”I want to set the record straight,” said Denney.  ”House rules dictate that I must choose from committee chairmen.”  Durst said the professional makeup of the panel, consisting of three ranchers or farmers, was also a concern.  He said that Denney should have looked to Republicans Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, or Lynn Luker, R-Boise, to serve because of their past work experience in the legal fields.  Denney pointed to the House rule that prevented those two men from serving.  ”While Smith and Luker would have been very good choices, neither is a committee chairman”/Dustin Hurst, Idaho Reporter. More here.

Question: Are you OK with House Speaker Denney’s explanation of his choices for the House Ethics Committee that’s investigating Rep. Phil Hart’s tax problems?

Popkey: Phil Hart Is No Jack Noble

A rarely convened special committee began digging Tuesday into allegations that a Kootenai County lawmaker abused his office in his effort to avoid paying his income taxes. The House Ethics Committee investigation is the first time Idaho legislators have scrutinized one of their own since 2005, when a Kuna lawmaker named Jack Noble slipped into ignominy rather than face likely expulsion by the Senate. But today’s villain is not comparable to yesterday’s. The ethical misdeeds of Phil Hart, a Republican from tiny Athol, are not on the same scale as Noble’s. Hart is guilty of petulant politics and conduct embarrassing to colleagues. But based on what we know now, he doesn’t appear to have committed an offense so grave as to bring his fellows to expel him from the Legislature/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: Do you agree w/columnist Dan Popkey that Hart is guilty of “petulant politics and conduct unbecoming to colleagues” — but not of conduct worthy of expulsion?


Hart Plans To Respond To Ethics Panel

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, had this response today to the convening of the newly appointed House Ethics Committee: “I guess I would say I’m anxious to get through the process, and I’m confident everything’s going to work out OK for me.” Hart said he’s received the formal letter from committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, “and I do plan on responding to it”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Hart: ‘I do plan on responding’

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, had this response today to the convening of the newly appointed House Ethics Committee: “I guess I would say I’m anxious to get through the process, and I’m confident everything’s going to work out OK for me.” Hart said he’s received the formal letter from committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, “and I do plan on responding to it.”

Ethics panel wants to be ‘completely fair’

The newly convened House Ethics Committee promised a “by the book” investigation into the conduct of Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, during its first meeting today; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Click here to read the committee documents - the order appointing the committee, the original complaint, and a statement from the House speaker. Said Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, “We want to make sure that we are completely fair in all our deliberations.”

Hart won’t be excluded from hearings

House Ethics Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher said Rep. Phil Hart asked Speaker Lawerence Denney if he should attend today’s meeting, and Denney checked with Loertscher. “I said we won’t have questions for him today,” Loertscher said. “We will not exclude him from any of the hearings,” Loertscher said. Here is the letter the ethics committee sent to Hart, seeking his formal response to the charges.

Ethics Panel Has 4 Possible Outcomes

The ethics committee has four possible recommendations it can make to the House regarding Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol: Dismissal of the charges; reprimand, which requires a majority vote of House members; censure, which also requires a majority vote of the House; and expulsion, which requires a two-thirds vote of the House pursuant to Article 3, Section 11 of the Constitution. Any recommendation also could carry a sanction recommendation, such as removal from certain committees/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Which of the options would you choose for Hart?

Hart doesn’t have to respond…

Rep. Phil Hart doesn’t have to respond to the Ethics Committee, Chairman Tom Loertscher noted. “We may not receive a response - he doesn’t have to respond if he chooses not to.” Loertscher cautioned committee members about talking with Hart. “Just so that you know, I have not been approached by Rep. Hart at all on this matter,” Loertscher said. “I would caution the committee not to have those conversations and be careful.” Loertscher said he ran into Hart in Idaho Falls during the state GOP convention, and “he avoided me like the plague - we said ‘hello’ and that’s it.” Said Loertscher, “It was very appropriate.”

The committee has set its next meeting for Thursday July 29th at 9 a.m.