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Starr Kelso, attorney for embattled Rep. Phil Hart, said after today’s House Ethics Committee meeting, “What I can say is that the legislative process is a fluid and complex process where politics and due process meet. And so, I guess it was reasonable that they asked Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane to put his thoughts in writing. He seemed to me that he had expressed his thoughts verbally, but to require that they be in writing, that’s certainly the prerogative of the committee. So I wasn’t disappointed. They do what they do.”
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, says his conversation with Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, at the Legislature’s organizational session wasn’t confrontational. “I did approach him and I did say, ‘Eric, if you need to get together or if you see a need for us to get together and talk, I want you to know that I’m open to doing that and available,’” Hart told Eye on Boise. “And that was the first thing I said to him.” He said, “We talked for a little while. I do remember that that’s the way I initiated the conversation. It was not confrontational and it didn’t go on for too long. I did not tell him he’s being watched.”
Hart added, “I did tell him that I felt that in these types of situations, it should’ve started with a one-on-one conversation between he and I, I do remember telling him that. … That’s what I thought the starting point should have been,” as opposed to an ethics complaint. Anderson filed an ethics complaint against Hart; the House Ethics Committee voted 6-1 today to investigate it further and convene again in January.
House Speaker Lawerence Denney said today that Rep. Eric Anderson’s removal as vice-chairman of the House State Affairs Committee - shortly after Anderson had filed an ethics complaint against Rep. Phil Hart - was merely an oversight, but also said he’d warned Anderson of “fallout” if he filed the ethics complaint. As for the vice-chairmanship, Denney said, “What’s done is done, and we’ll continue for two years as it is.” He said, “When you get those names and everything out there, things change and sometimes we miss things. … Sometimes people who should get something don’t. It’s not that we’re punishing anybody, it’s that sometimes we miss it.”
Denney said, “No one was punished, even those who ran for leadership; we didn’t punish anyone.” Rep. Bob Nonini, who unsuccessfully challenged House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, kept his chairmanship of the House Education Committee. But Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, who unsuccessfully challenged House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, lost his JFAC seat; Bayer said it was his choice to move to the Rev & Tax committee.
Anderson didn’t run for leadership, though he was rumored to be a candidate in the weeks before party leadership elections were held. But after he filed the ethics complaint, he lost his committee vice-chairmanship and also was denied his request for a third committee assignment, a seat on the judiciary committee. Anderson, R-Priest Lake, is a fourth-term representative; the vice chairmanship went to third-term Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa.
“You know, I don’t have a problem with him filing the ethics complaint,” Denney said. “When he came and asked me about it, I suggested that he have somebody else do it, because there could be fallout. You know, there are people in our caucus who fully support Phil Hart and there are people in our caucus who do not. So, you know, for one of our members to do that, I think it could be tough.”
Denney said, “I think Phil has every right to pursue all of his legal avenues. … In Phil’s case, we were very careful - I didn’t want to show that we were rewarding him, and I didn’t want to show that we were punishing him.” Hart, who at the recommendation of the House Ethics Committee was removed from the House Rev & Tax Committee, was simply reduced to two committee assignments instead of three; he saw no other changes. “That was his choice,” Denney said. Hart retained his vice-chairmanship of the House Transportation Committee.
Denney said he’s not concerned about Anderson’s report that Hart confronted him over the ethics complaint at the entrance to the House chambers during the Dec. 2 organizational session, and told him he was being watched. Denney said with a chuckle, “Well, you know, I think people are watching all of us.” He added of the confrontation, “You know, I think it would be hard not to do when they’re together.”
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today’s House Ethics Committee meeting on Rep. Phil Hart, in which the panel voted 6-1 to launch a full investigation into the latest ethics complaint against Hart and reconvene in January, rather than dismiss the complaint today.
The motion passed 6-1, with just the chairman, Rep. Tom Loertscher, voting against it. “You know, as legislators we all have something in our past,” said Loertscher, R-Iona. He said he doesn’t feel that the “constitutional rights to exhaust our remedies ends the day we take office, or the day we run for office.” He added, “As it pertains to the timber sales, this certainly happened before his involvement in the Legislature, and I would hate to have an ethics investigation into my own personal background prior to my being a legislator. I’m not here to tell you that there’s anything you would find, but there might be something that someone would have a perception about.” With the motion approved, the Ethics Committee will convene again once the legislative session begins, at the call of the chair.
“We have before us a copy of the minutes of our last meeting,” Rep. Tom Loertscher said as the ethics committee came back into session. “On page 6, on the last page, Rep. Raybould moved that the committee dismiss the complaint of misuse of constitutional immunity by Rep. Hart, Rep. Wills seconded the motion, that motion passed 5 ayes and 2 nays. So we have dealt with this issue and brought it to a conclusion at that point in time.”
Rep. Bert Stevenson then made a motion to direct the committee’s staff and Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane to do “further investigation into these issues” and how they affect the “status of the Legislature and reflection on the Legislature.” He said, “I would move that we continue this hearing to a further date and instruct Mr. Kane to do that investigation that would be necessary, to the issue of the timber sales as well as other issues that Mr. Kane might feel appropriate to bring forth.” Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, asked to include in the motion asking Kane to prepare an Attorney General’s opinion on the foundation of the claims in the ethics complaint. Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, asked to also include a review by the Attorney General’s office of the House ethics rules, and whether items not specifically delineated in the complaint can be examined by the ethics committee.
During the Ethics Committee’s break, over the speaker system is coming a muffled conversation by Rep. Phil Hart, talking at his lawyer’s office, and strains of music.
Rep. Eric Anderson said children have asked him how the courts could repeatedly say Hart was wrong, but he could continue to say he’s right. Rep. Tom Loertscher, Ethics committee chairman, asked Anderson, “Is Rep. Hart denied the opportunity to challenge … in any court … the same as any other citizen would have - does he have that right or did he give that up as a representative?” Anderson responded, “I’ve never implied that he does not have that right. It’s not in my complaint.” Loertscher said, “The only way that he could be in violation of these ethics rules is if he used his office to escape these responsibilities. … If there’s evidence of that, I think that we should proceed.” But Loertscher said he thought the ethics committee already had resolved that there was no such evidence with regard to the tax issues.
Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, took issue with that. Earlier, the panel refrained from dealing with Hart’s legislative privilege claim in his state income tax appeal because the appeal was pending, Killen said, but that’s since been decided, both by the state Board of Tax Appeals and the District Court. Both ruled against Hart. Killen said it’s time for the ethics panel to look at that issue. Loertscher disagreed, and said the committee decided “that he hadn’t abused that.” He said, “That’s what we decided at our final meeting.” Now, the panel has taken a brief break to review its minutes.
Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, told the House Ethics Committee, “It could be an array of things that cause ethics issues to rise up. … I don’t know why we have an oath if it’s not going to be enforced.” He said he believes Hart has violated his oath of office. “I take that very serious when I raise my hand to swear on upholding the constitution of both the state and the federal government, I think that we all should and most of us do. But it is a reflection when we are doing things that are inappropriate, we have … diminished that oath. When one person, one part diminishes it, I think it’s diminished for all.”
Anderson noted that Hart has gone through numerous court proceedings on his claims, all unsuccessful. “There have not been any of these proceedings that have been favorable in terms of Rep. Hart, but yet he still continually as a legislator says that he’s done no wrong,” he said.
Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said after reviewing Rep. Eric Anderson’s complaint, there was no mention in it of the silver issue. Therefore, he said, he apologized to the committee and it shouldn’t even be discussing it. Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, asked if under state laws and House rules, “If it’s not listed in the complaint, that we can’t talk about it?” In response, Loertscher asked Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz to read the ethics committee rules. He did so. They make no specific mention of that question.
Loertscher said if items not specifically mentioned in the complaint can be brought up, “Then we could probably open this up to almost any action of any legislator at any time - do we really want to go there?” Jaquet asked Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, to comment; he’s doing so now. “The intent there was to show that there is a pattern of behavior,” Anderson told the panel.
A half-dozen Hart supporters in the audience, who are wearing white paper cut-out hearts in support of Phil Hart, are grumbling loudly, “This is a circus” and other complaints about the Ethics Committee proceedings.
Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, said if the Ethics Committee is going to proceed further “on this silver coin issue,” it needs a lot more information about the organization, the bill Hart introduced in 2010, and more. He said he didn’t think that was what the panel was gathered for today. Said Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, “I think we did resolve that issue already as to whether or not he was in violation of House Rule 38 in not disclosing to the body that he had some affiliation, because as he stated here today, he didn’t have that affiliation.”
Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, responded, “He did take an oath to uphold the laws of the state and the constitution of the United States and the state.” She said Hart’s involvement in the alternative currency movement suggested his bill might have been related to that, not just to promoting an Idaho commodity. “Should that bill have even been brought?” she asked. “There is some additional information that is murky.”
After Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, pressed repeatedly, attorney Starr Kelso finally conferred with his client, Rep. Phil Hart, and said Hart was not involved with the NORFED Liberty Dollars organization after 2006 or 2007. When he introduced legislation in 2010 regarding silver medallions as currency, Hart “had had no involvement with those folks at that time,” Kelso said.
Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, asked whether Hart had proper permits to sell NORFED or Liberty Dollars. Starr Kelso responded, “That issue, to the extent it was raised, was discussed in the original hearing.” He said the question of whether Hart paid sales taxes on the Liberty Dollars he sold is “just an incredible fishing expedition - what does that have to do with anything?” he asked. The Liberty Dollars were an alternate currency minted from silver that were promoted as legal tender; an FBI raid put a stop to the operation in 2007, which was deemed illegal. Kelso said Hart was no longer involved with the group when he introduced a silver currency bill in 2010.
“What I’m trying to figure out is the role that Rep. Hart played in that organization in 2007, and why he chose to bring legislation in 2010,” Jaquet said. “We talked about whether he had a personal benefit. You said that he did not have any share in that company any longer. I’m confused about the role that he played … I did not know that he was a ‘regional currency officer’ (for the group), and if he was still a regional currency officer when he brought that legislation.”
Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, said he wanted to hear from Hart himself on that question, but Hart isn’t answering any questions, leaving that to Kelso.
After Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said of the timber issue, “I believe that there’s some merit there, that we should look into this further,” Ethics Committee Chair Tom Loertscher R-Iona, said, “The thing we should consider is if Rep. Hart used his office as a means of not paying that obligation. That would be a violation of the ethics rules of the House.” If not, he said, that would “not seem to be a topic that is appropriate for an ethics hearing. … If he’s used his office to say, ‘You can’t touch me because I’m a legislator’ … I don’t believe that anything in the record indicates that that’s the case.”
Jaquet said she wondered whether the reason that the state Department of Lands dropped the ball on collecting its judgment against Hart was because he was a legislator. She said the panel should at least look into that question.
Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said there are three points in the ethics complaint: Theft of logs from state endowment lands, claiming that state and federal income taxes are unconstitutional, and personally benefiting from silver legislation. “We dealt in our last meetings about these items having to do with taxes,” Loertscher said. “We have disposed of those.” Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, said, however, that he’s had “an opportunity to revisit the law” since then. Killen, an attorney, said, he discovered a section of law that “makes it a misdemeanor, makes it a crime to willfully fail to pay your taxes.” He said, “Based on that, I think that we should proceed further down the road on this. It seems, regardless of the rationale, regardless of what personal subjective beliefs of Mr. Hart, what he’s engaged in is flatly against the law in the state of Idaho, and I think should be engaged in beyond this hearing.”
Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, noted that Hart came to the Legislature in 2004 with an outstanding judgment against him for the 1996 timber theft, which he didn’t pay.
Ethics Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, opened the ethics committee hearing this morning saying, “The purpose of our meeting today is to make a determination as to whether or not there is merit enough on this complaint to go further. This is not a hearing into the matter in any way.” Hart is participating by phone, but when asked if he was on the line, his attorney, Starr Kelso, answered for him.
This morning’s House Ethics Committee meeting will be broadcast live on the Internet; you can listen in by going to the Legislature’s website and clicking on the link under “Announcements.”
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, has submitted letters of support from GOP central committees in Boundary, Bonner and Benewah counties, saying he should be cleared of all ethics charges. “We know that Representative Hart received 75.2 percent of his district’s vote and this was after the people already knew about his problems with the IRS and Tax Commission,” wrote Pamela Kaynor, Benewah County GOP chairman. The committee also received several emails and letters from Hart supporters, several of them identical. W.L. Leiby of Coeur d’Alene wrote in a Dec. 9 letter, “What is the problem here? Is it that rep. Hart supported and was supported by the tea-party? Is it that he supported staunch new conservatives against tired old dead-wood? Why is it Rep. Hart is being persecuted by the establishment?”
According to public records including IRS liens and court documents, Hart owes more than $500,000 in back state and federal income taxes, penalties and interest. He also has an outstanding judgment for thousands of dollars stemming from a 1996 timber theft on state endowment lands that he unsuccessfully defended in court.
Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, who filed an ethics complaint against Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, that’s the topic of a House Ethics Committee hearing later this morning, says Hart confronted him over it during the Dec. 2 organizational session of the Legislature, and Anderson subsequently was punished in his committee assignments, losing the vice-chairmanship of the House State Affairs Committee and being denied a third committee assignment he’d requested, on the judiciary committee. “They made this very personal with me,” Anderson said.
“He confronted me, right coming out of the chambers, right there at those doors where you come out of the (House) chambers,” Anderson said. He said Hart told him “that he’s been cleared of all these things, it’s ridiculous that I’m doing it, and no one is that pure.” He responded, he said, by asking about Hart allies who’ve been looking into Anderson’s record with a state milfoil fund and checking into his service on a local utility board. “He says, ‘There’s people watching you all over,’” Anderson said.
The House Ethics Committee meets at 11 a.m. today for its initial meeting in response to Anderson’s ethics complaint against Hart, which alleges that Hart has violated his oath of office by fighting against paying his state and federal income taxes and declaring that they’re unconstitutional; by invoking legislative privilege to try to win delays in his state and federal tax fights; and by illegally cutting logs from state school endowment land and using them to build his log home in Athol in 1996, and never paying an outstanding judgment over the theft.
Last Thursday, a Kootenai County judge tossed out Hart’s appeal of a state Tax Commission order to pay $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest, calling Hart’s arguments “wholly unsupported,” “unthinkable,” and, in his arguments that an Arizona case showed legislative privilege should exempt him from time limits to file his state tax appeal, making an “attempt to deceive this Court.” Hart said last week he hasn’t yet decided whether to appeal again.
The special House Ethics Committee to look into the conduct of Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, will meet on Dec. 13 at 11 a.m., its chairman, Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said today. “We’re going to have our first meeting to determine whether or not to go further, to look at the nature of the accusations,” Loertscher said. The panel also will consult with Brian Kane of the Idaho Attorney General’s office on legal questions and “whether or not it warrants further investigation,” Loertscher said.
He noted that two of the three charges raised in a complaint against Hart from Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, deal with topics also raised in an earlier complaint from House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewistion. Those have to do with Hart’s fights against back state and federal income taxes and his repeated invoking of legislative privilege to win delays in his personal tax fights. The panel dismissed the charges in Rusche’s complaint, but voted unanimously to recommend that Hart be removed from the House Revenue & Taxation Committee while he pursues his personal income tax cases; Speaker Lawerence Denney followed that recommendation after Hart requested he do so.
While Rusche’s complaint suggested conflicts of interest between Hart’s votes on tax legislation and his tax fights, Anderson’s focuses on a possible violation of Hart’s oath of office. However, Loertscher said, “Two of these charges are the same thing we already resolved. That’s an easy one - you don’t get a second bite at the apple. I’m assuming the committee will take a look at that and say that’s all taken care of.” The third charge, regarding Hart’s theft of timber from state endowment land in 1996 to use in building his home, is new, Loertscher said. On that charge, he said, if the panel decides to proceed further, it’ll need to provide notice to Hart and a chance to respond, and conduct an investigation. “We’ll go from there,” Loertscher said.
Anderson said, “I’m glad that there’s finally been a date set for a hearing.”
House Speaker Lawerence Denney says he’s appointed an ethics committee to look into a complaint filed by Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, about the conduct of Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, including Hart’s 1996 theft of timber from school endowment land for use in building his home; his continuing problems with past-due state and federal income taxes; and his citing of legislative privilege to win delays in his tax cases. Denney said the panel will be the same as the one that investigated an earlier complaint against Hart from House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, with one exception; Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, has retired; his slot will be filled by Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello. Denney said he doesn’t yet have a meeting date for the ethics panel. “I think it will probably be within a couple of weeks,” he said.
House Speaker Lawerence Denney’s announcement of his decision to remove Rep. Phil Hart from the House Tax Committee says he made the decision because Hart himself, in an Oct. 29 letter, asked him to do so. “Representative Hart was duly elected by the people in his district to represent them in Boise,” Denney said in his announcement. “Phil’s one of the hardest-working members of the House and, I believe, he’ll continue to be responsive to his constituents while serving on another committee.”
Hart, in his Oct. 29 letter to Denney, said it was “with real sadness” that he asked for a different committee assignment. “I continue in my passionate belief that we must fight the over-reach of government through its power to tax,” Hart wrote. “However, the developments of the past several months have created a rather toxic environment for me and members of the House. I fear that my continued service on this committee would only serve to provide fodder to members of the media and my political opponents.”
Denney also said in his announcement that he’ll appoint a new ethics committee to look into Hart’s conduct “as soon as possible.” You can read both Denney’s announcement and Hart’s letter here, and my full story here. Also, you can read a statement from Hart here, issued this evening, saying he voluntarily stepped down from the tax committee and that his move “precludes any action by Denney” to remove him.
House Majority Caucus Chair Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, had this response to today’s announcement from House Speaker Lawerence Denney that Rep. Phil Hart will be removed from the House tax committee and a new ethics committee will be appointed: “I think it was important to have some action taken, especially on the previous ethics panel recommendations. I was glad to see the speaker take action on that. He’s pretty much required by the rules of the House to get another ethics panel together. … That’s the place for it to play out.”
Roberts said Hart’s case was a topic of discussion during the North Idaho Chamber of Commerce’s legislative tour, which drew dozens of lawmakers to a series of events and presentations in the Panhandle Sunday through today and included a banquet and speech from Gov. Butch Otter last night; Hart attended the banquet, but was missing from most of the tour. “There’s been some discussion about it, sure,” Roberts said. “I think people were looking for a decision by the speaker.”
Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, who served as vice-chair of the House Ethics Committee that voted unanimously in September to recommend that Rep. Phil Hart be removed from the House tax committee, had this response to Speaker Lawerence Denney’s announcement today of Hart’s removal from the panel: “I think he should’ve done it right away. Why did he wait so long? … I think he sent a message that it probably wasn’t as important as maybe those of us who are on the committee thought it was.”
Jaquet said the same lawmakers likely will serve on the new ethics committee to investigate Hart in response to a complaint from Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, but one change on the Democratic side is that Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, retired, so another member of the House minority will replace him.
Jaquet said she wasn’t surprised at the new allegations from Anderson about Hart, a tax protester who’s waging a fight against back state and federal income taxes and who illegally logged state school endowment land in 1996 for logs to build his Athol home. “What I was concerned about all along was how he was tarnishing the reputation of all legislators,” Jaquet said. “I think if he would resign, that would be an appropriate thing to do - resign before we have to convene an ethics committee.”
Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney announced today that he’s removing Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, from the House Revenue and Taxation Committee and that he’ll convene a new ethics committee to look into a new complaint against Hart from Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake. Hart, a tax protester who’s locked in a fight with the state Tax Commission over back state income taxes, also owes thousands on an outstanding judgment over a 1996 timber theft from state school endowment lands.
Denney, who announced his decision this morning at the North Idaho Chamber of Commerce legislative tour, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, confirmed that Denney had made the decision to remove Hart from the committee, but wasn’t aware of reports that Hart had first told Denney he’d voluntarily step down; Hart refused to do that when offered the chance by a special House Ethics Committee in September.
”Rep. Hart will not be on the Rev & Tax Committee for the next two years,” Moyle said. “I hope he can get his issues resolved in regards to his tax situation. I don’t know enough about the timber deal to really comment on that. But the voters in his district sent him back with 75 percent of the vote, so I assume he’s going to be a legislator. I hope he has the time to get his problems solved.” Moyle added, “I feel sorry for him. … It’s a real touchy deal. … It’s a bad deal for all of us.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
House Speaker Lawerence Denney will wait until after Tuesday’s election to announce whether he’ll allow state Rep. Phil Hart to remain on a key tax policy committee. A House ethics committee recommended Hart, a Republican from Athol, be removed from House Revenue and Taxation Committee while he wages a constitutional battle with the IRS and the Idaho State Tax Commission over hundreds of thousands in income taxes. Denney says he spoke with Hart a week ago, but that an announcement on Hart’s membership on the legislative tax panel would be premature — until the election is past/Associated Press. More here.
Question: Anyone here think Denney will boot Hart from Rev & Tax committee, if Hart scores a solid win over write-in Howard Griffiths next Tuesday?
The Idaho Secretary of State’s office says Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, has supplied the missing information from his campaign finance filings for a PAC he formed this year called “North Idahoans for Liberty,” and it’s closed the case without fining Hart. “Our main goal is disclosure, and we’ve been working with him to get it,” said Tim Hurst, chief deputy secretary of state. “We use a penalty as more of a last resort than the first attention-getting device.” More here at Eye on Boise
In an article in the current issue of Media Ethics, co-authors Theodore Glasser and James Ettema address the concept of accountability as the essence of journalistic ethics. They say: “Our being-ethical-means-being-accountable theme emphasizes ethics as a process, not an outcome; an argument, not a choice.”
I know what that means to me, but I’d be interested in hearing others’ thoughts.