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Killen: ‘I think it is a big deal’

Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, said if the ethics committee lets Hart slide, it’s setting precedent with regard to abuse of legislative privilege. “We’re suggesting to future bodies that it’s no big deal - I think it is a big deal,” he said.

Jaquet: ‘He tarnishes the reputation of legislators’

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said she believe the ethics committee must consider the abuse of privilege issue. “It seemed like basically a smokescreen to again not pay what was due the state,” she said. “So even though we don’t have any precedent, I think that our constituents feel that this is a person that’s taken advantage of something that he shouldn’t have taken advantage of, that he’s taken advantage of it over a period of time. … He’s basically saying I don’t care about the institution of the Legislature, I don’t care about what my actions do with regard to other legislators, I just am going to continue to do this because I don’t believe I should pay my taxes, and I’m just going to drag this on forever. Frankly I think he tarnishes the reputation of legislators and he tarnishes the institution of the Legislature.”

Loertscher: ‘Might be difficult for us to do’

Ethics Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, is arguing that because the Board of Tax Appeals didn’t rule on whether the legislative privilege from civil process applies to a lawmaker’s personal tax appeal or not - they ruled that even if it did, Hart still exceeded the timeline for an appeal, so his appeal was rejected - that it may be difficult for the Ethics Committee to act on the charge against Hart of abuse of the privilege. “I think the question is do we want to go there and talk about the provision in the Constitution altogether, or do we want to base our decision on whether or not it was improperly used in this case? That might be a difficult thing for us to do, seeing as how the Board of Tax Appeals did not use that as an issue at all,” Loertscher said.

Hart wants reconsideration from Tax Appeals Board

Rep. Phil Hart has filed a motion for reconsideration with the state Board of Tax Appeals, Ethics Committee members were informed. Hart last month lost his case there, where he’d tried to get extra time to appeal a state order to pay $53,000 in back income taxes, penalties and interest on the basis of legislative privilege - because he said his status as a state lawmaker should allow him more time. He cited the constitutional privilege against arrest or civil process during legislative sessions.

Ethics committee convenes

The House Ethics Committee is gathering for its meeting. Chairman Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, asked about the agenda, said, “We’re just going to discuss this last item about this matter and resolve it once and for all, get this behind us so we can move on with life.”

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.

Huckleberries: Trouble In GOP Tent

Huckleberries hears … there were fireworks at the executive committee meeting of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee earlier this month. Seems Chairman Tina Jacobson objected to the presence of House District 3 write-in candidate Howard Griffiths. Who wanted to include his literature with other Republican material on a table at the Tea Party meeting at the Greyhound Park Sept. 12. Griffiths is running against tax-dodging Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol. One witness told Huckleberries that Jacobson was so confrontational that Griffiths left. Jacobson has filled in for Hart during the Legislature in the past. Griffiths confirmed the report for Huckleberries. Later, Jacobson warned Matt Roetter that his position as state committeeman would be in jeopardy unless Roetter supported Hart/DFO, Hucks Online. More here.

Question: Is the Kootenai County Republican Party self-destructing?

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.

Griffiths Files Complaint Against Hart

Howard Griffiths, a Republican write-in candidate for House District 3, is has filed a complaint with the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office re: the campaign finance records of Hart’s PAC, North Idahoans for Liberty. Griffiths, who is challenging the Athol Republican, claims that Hart ‘s PAChas two anomalies on its campaign finance reports — one each on May 18 and June 20. In the May 18 instance, Griffiths said, Hart’s PAC reported spending $503.33 more than it received. In the June 20 instance, Griffiths said, Hart’s PAC reported spending more than he received, yet had a cash balance of $930.09. How can North Idahoans for Liberty spend more than it received and have a cash balance, Griffiths asks. Griffiths notes that Hart has a masters in business administration from an Ivy League school and is on the Idaho Revenue and Taxation Committee — and shouldn’t have anomalies like these in his campaign reports. Full complaint here.

Phil Hart Foe Files Finance Complaint

Idaho Rep. Phil Hart’s write-in challenger, Howard Griffiths, has filed a complaint with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office over Hart’s campaign finance filings for a PAC he formed this year called “North Idahoans for Liberty.” Tim Hurst, chief deputy secretary of state, said the office has not yet received the complaint, but Hart’s report for the PAC has been under review by staffers in the office since it was filed for errors and discrepancies, including possible missing pages. “They’ve asked him repeatedly to get those in, he hasn’t done so,” Hurst said today. “I just called him to tell him, and he wasn’t in, but I left him a message that we need that report in and we need it in now”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Hart hit with campaign finance complaint

Idaho Rep. Phil Hart’s write-in challenger, Howard Griffiths, has filed a complaint with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office over Hart’s campaign finance filings for a PAC he formed this year called “North Idahoans for Liberty.” Tim Hurst, chief deputy secretary of state, said the office has not yet received the complaint, but Hart’s report for the PAC has been under review by staffers in the office since it was filed for errors and discrepancies, including possible missing pages. “They’ve asked him repeatedly to get those in, he hasn’t done so,” Hurst said today. “I just called him to tell him, and he wasn’t in, but I left him a message that we need that report in and we need it in now.”

Political candidates or committees that fail to file reports or that falsify the data can face fines and even misdemeanor criminal prosecution; for a PAC, the fine can be up to $2,500. Late filings can bring fines of $50 per day. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and read the complaint here.

Huckleberries Hears …

… there was some fireworks last night at the executive committee meeting of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee. Seems new Chairman Tina Jacobson didn’t like the presence of write-in candidate Howard Griffiths, who was seeking to include his literature with other Republican material on a table at the coming Tea Party meeting at the Greyhound Park. Griffiths is running against tax-protesting Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol (pictured). At least one witness told Huckleberries that Jacobson, who has filled in for Hart in the Legislature, was so confrontational that Griffiths left. Later, she warned Matt Roetter that his position as state committeeman would be in jeopardy unless Roetter supported Hart. Contacted by Huckleberries, Roetter confirmed that the scenario had happened because he said he couldn’t support a tax protester like Hart over Griffiths. Roetter said he pointed out to Jacobson and the executive committee that Griffiths is a lifelong Republican while Hart switched allegiance from the Constitutionalist Party to Republican simply to get elected. Stay tuned …

Question: Will the battle over Phil Hart and his questionable tax-protesting ways tear the local Republican Party apart?

Phil Hart Stands By His Cause

Item: Hart: A taxing adventure: Legislator’s ordeal has left him confident that income tax is unconstitutional/Alecia Warren, Coeur d’Alene Press

More Info: Speaking to the crowd of fellow Republicans in the Garden Plaza senior living facility in Post Falls, Hart discussed the birth of his income tax suspicions and the long road to his current litigation with the IRS and the recent House Ethics Committee investigation. If anything, he has only come out more confident that income tax is unconstitutional, he said.

Question: You have to give Hart credit for chutzpah, hunh?

Lewiston Trib Cheers Phil Hart Foe

CHEERS … to Howard Griffiths of Hayden. Running as a write-in candidate against an incumbent Republican legislator in the ruby red state of Idaho is a dirty job. But in the case of state Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, somebody’s got to do it. Hart sees nothing wrong in both holding public office, serving on the House tax-writing committee and evading his obligation to pay his taxes. In the mid-‘90s, he contended state and federal income taxes were unconstitutional. The courts said otherwise. Today, he’s on the hook for an estimated $700,000. By a party-line vote, a House ethics committee refused to reprimand him. Hart was guaranteed a fourth term because nobody had filed to run against him. It’s only remotely possible that Griffiths will get in his way. But at least the voters of Idaho’s 3rd Legislative District can’t deny they have a choice/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. More here.

Question: Are you glad to see someone running against state Rep. Phil Hart?

Trib: No One Cares About Tax Cheat?

” … there’s been no word from Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, or Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, about stripping (state Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol) of his assignment on the tax-writing committee. That’s some signal the House leadership is communicating: Idahoans should continue voluntarily - or at least grudgingly - to pay their taxes. The same rules, however, do not apply to a sitting lawmaker who not only flaunts the law, but then writes those laws for others to follow. Then again, that’s some message the ordinary citizen is telegraphing to his elected representatives in Boise. Out there with the electorate, Hart’s escapade has had a half-life of about 15 minutes. Have Idahoans come to accept a tax scofflaw in their Legislature?”/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. More here.

Question: Why hasn’t there been any sort of outcry from ordinary North Idahoans re: state Rep. Phil Hart’s flaunting of tax laws?

Loertscher: Now ethics panel will take up the ‘more serious’ charge against Rep. Hart

Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, chairman of the special House Ethics Committee that’s investigating the conduct of Rep. Phil Hart, said now that the state Board of Tax Appeals has rejected Hart’s appeal, he’ll likely reconvene the Ethics Committee to hear the second charge against Hart, abuse of legislative privilege. “It’s something that we’d rather not do at all, but that’s our charge, and that’s what we’ll do, we’ll do what’s required of us,” Loertscher said. “We’ll have to make the determination now as to whether or not he’s abused this constitutional privilege or not. Quite frankly, this is probably the more serious of the two charges in the complaint.”

Loertscher said, “The reason why we decided not to move forward was  because we just didn’t want to muddy the water for that appeal. So as soon as I get word about that and everything’s put together, then we’ll probably convene the committee again.” He added, “I think the Ethics Committee would want to know why the thing (Hart’s appeal) hadn’t been done in a more timely fashion.”

The ethics complaint against Hart, filed by House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, charged Hart with possible abuse of the privilege, which he’s cited repeatedly to seek delays in his state and federal income tax battles; and with conflicts of interest for voting on and sponsoring tax legislation while pressing his own personal fight against the state Tax Commission over back income taxes. Last month, the committee voted 4-3, along party lines, to clear Hart on the conflict of interest charge. Hart is a third-term Republican from Athol with a history of tax protesting; he stopped filing both state and federal income tax returns in 1996 while he pressed an unsuccessful lawsuit claiming the federal income tax was unconstitutional. He’s since been wrangling with both federal and state authorities over back payments; public records show he owes nearly $700,000 in state and federal income taxes, penalties and interest. In his state appeal, Hart also alleged that the state income tax was unconstitutional.

State rejects Rep. Hart’s tax appeal

Idaho’s state Board of Tax Appeals has rejected Rep. Phil Hart’s bid to appeal an order to pay $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest, saying his appeal wasn’t timely. Hart argued that he should have months extra to file his appeal because of the state Constitution’s provision granting freedom from arrest or civil process to state legislators during legislative sessions; the appeal period ran out 10 days before the start of this year’s legislative session. You can read the decision here, and read my full story here at spokesman.com.

The board’s decision is especially significant because Hart faces a pending ethics charge of abuse of legislative privilege for repeatedly citing the constitutional privilege to win delays in his state and federal income tax fights. A special House Ethics Committee, which earlier voted 4-3 along party lines to clear Hart of a conflict-of-interest charge, delayed considering the abuse of privilege charge to await the pending tax appeal decision.

Statesman: A Test For Phil Hart

Howard Griffiths, a registered Republican, is stepping in where Idaho Democrats couldn’t. The Hayden businessman has launched a write-in campaign to challenge GOP state Rep. Phil Hart — a six-year lawmaker who is, depending on your point of view, either a principled tax protester or a habitual tax scofflaw. Said Griffiths, who leans toward the latter school of thought: “Some politicians forget who they are working for and think they’re above the law.” One thing is certain. Before Griffiths announced his late challenge, Hart, of Hayden, was untouchable at the polls. He was — and still is — one of 46 Republicans who face no Democratic opponent in the Nov. 2 legislative elections. Democrats waved the white flag in 17 of 35 state Senate races, and 29 of 70 House races. Do Democrats remain the state’s minority party because they can’t recruit candidates, or do Democrats fail to recruit candidates because they’re a historic minority party? It doesn’t matter/Idaho Statesman Editorial Board. More here.

Question: How much do Democrats matter in Idaho?

DFO: Write-In Against Hart OK, But …

I’m delighted that Hayden businessman Howard Griffiths has filed as a write-in candidate to challenge state Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, in the fall general election. Hart may have been given a 4-3 (along partisan lines) pass re: his tax problems by the so-called ethics committee hand-picked by House Speaker Lawerence Denney. But he needs someone to hold his feet to raise questions re: his actions. Republicans may want to look the other way. And some may consider Hart to be some sort of hero for resisting income tax payments that now has him about $700,000 in arrears to the IRS & Idaho Tax Commission. But a lot of North Idahoans are repulsed that he can continue to dodge tax payments while he sits on the House Revenue & Tax Commission that affects the taxes that affect the rest of us. I only wish Griffiths would have filed as a Democrat or Independent so he would have had a better shot at upsetting Hart.

Question: What value is there in having a write-in candidate face state Rep. Phil Hart?

Hayden Man To Challenge Phil Hart

A Hayden, Idaho businessman has filed to run as a write-in candidate against Idaho Rep. Phil Hart, saying Hart’s tax woes prompted him to jump into the race against a fellow conservative. “We all pay our taxes, and my feeling is what he did was wrong,” Howard Griffiths said of Hart. “There’s no justification for it. If we all took that attitude, and the way Washington’s printing money, this country wouldn’t last three minutes if none of us paid our taxes.” Hart is the target of an ethics investigation in the Idaho House; in late July, a special House Ethics Committee cleared him, on a 4-3 party-line vote, of conflict-of-interest charges for voting on and sponsoring tax legislation while he was waging his own fight against back state and federal income taxes. He still faces a pending charge of abuse of legislative privilege/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Are you glad to see that Rep. Phil Hart isn’t running entirely unopposed?

Rusche, House Dems: Appreciate committee, disappointed in dismissal

The House Democratic Caucus has issued a statement commenting on the outcome of today’s House Ethics Committee on the conduct of Rep. Phil Hart. Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said in the statement, ““I appreciate the Speaker forming a committee in response to my complaint and am grateful for Chairman Loertscher’s leadership of the committee deliberations. With that said, I am disappointed in the dismissal of the conflict of interest issue by a majority of the members of the committee and their implicit conclusion that Representative Hart’s behavior and actions were acceptable.” Click below for the full release.

EOB: Party-line vote clears Hart of conflict charge

A special House Ethics Committee has voted 4-3 along party lines to clear Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, of conflict of interest charges over his votes on various tax legislation while pressing his own tax fights against state and federal income tax. “I don’t think that the allegations were specific enough,” said Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry. “I hope if nothing else that come out of this, that it’s a wakeup call for all of us to be very careful about our appearances.” The three minority Democrats on the committee said Hart’s actions showed a pattern of ignoring the House rule that requires conflicts of interest be disclosed.  They favored a motion to reprimand Hart and recommend his removal from the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, but it failed on a party-line vote. “I think that the behavior does reflect badly on all of us,” said Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum. “It reflects badly on the credibility of the body. So I can’t vote to dismiss here.” More here - Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise

Two views of ethics panel outcome…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the House Ethics Committee hearing today, at which a 4-3 party-line vote cleared Rep. Phil Hart of conflict-of-interest charges. Hart still faces an additional ethics charge of abuse of legislative privilege; the committee will convene another time to consider that charge. Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, the ethics committee chairman, said, “My emphasis has been dealing with this fairly, looking at it totally objectively, trying to divorce the personalities from the issues. When it comes down to that … I think we probably did a pretty good job today.”

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, the panel’s vice-chair, said, “I’m disappointed. I think to me, the perception is out there and the constituents are upset, and his actions do stain the credibility of the institution. And that’s what I’m really concerned about.”

Hart: Lawmakers need ‘flexibility and some deference’ on possible conflict issues

An unrepentant Rep. Phil Hart said at a press conference after today’s House Ethics Committee meeting that he has no plans to declare conflicts of interest in situations like those examined by the committee today, in which he voted on or proposed tax legislation while also pressing his own personal fight against paying a $53,000 judgment from the state Tax Commission for back income tax, penalties and interest. “I think that’s a troubling road to go down, to have a disciplinary action based on perceptions,” he said. “I think as citizen legislators, we all do something else for a living. I think we ought to have some flexibility and some deference to the members.”

Hart said, “I am glad that we had this hearing today … and that there has been an opportunity to present this in front of the public … and to get this out in the open.” He said, “I hope that we don’t have future possible candidates scared away from the electoral process,” because of the attention his case has received.

Hart said he expected the conflict-of-interest charges against him to be dismissed. “I don’t think there is a connection between those votes I made and my personal circumstances,” he said. “I think the issue got an adequate hearing, we heard voices from both sides, and I think the decision was right.” He expressed optimism about his prospects on the remaining charge of abuse of legislative privilege. “I think I’ve got a very solid foundation, and I think when it’s ultimately resolved, it’ll be resolved in my favor.”

One charge remains…

Still pending before the Ethics Committee is the question of whether Hart abused legislative privilege by invoking it repeatedly to win delays in his state and federal income tax cases. The committee will wait for court resolution of that issue before taking it up on the ethics charge. The committee has now adjourned for today.

Committee splits along party lines, votes 4-3 to clear Hart on conflicts

The House Ethics Committee has voted along party lines against the substitute motion to reprimand Rep. Phil Hart and recommend his removal of the House Revenue & Taxation, and then voted, again along party lines, 4-3 to dismiss conflict of interest ethics charges against Hart. All Republicans voted for dismissal; all Democrats on the committee voted against it.

Two motions are on the floor at Ethics Committee

Rep. Bert Stevenson, R-Rupert, has moved to dismiss the ethics charges against Hart with regard to Rule 38, conflicts of interest. Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, seconded the motion. Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, made a substitute motion to reprimand Hart and recommend to the speaker that he be removed from the Revenue & Taxation Committee as a sanction. Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, seconded the substitute motion.

Sayler: ‘It’s a pattern of actions’

Rep. Wendy Jaquet told the Ethics Committee, “When I look at this I wonder in my mind whether Rep. Hart should be on the Revenue & Taxation Committee, because of the history that Rep. Hart is still dealing with with regard to tax matters. … We have a representative who basically is not paying his taxes, and my constituents are paying their taxes. I feel that he should not be on the Revenue & Taxation Committee because of the appearance of conflict.”

Starr Kelso, Hart’s attorney, responded that that’s “a political issue - it has nothing to do with a legal issue of a conflict of interest.”

Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, said, “In this situation, the perception up here for the most part is that Rep. Hart has behaved inappropriately. … It’s a pattern of actions involving taxes on all fronts.” Why, he asked, did Hart continually delay his tax appeals citing legislative privilege? How does he explain his overall behavior?

Kelso, after conferring with Hart, said, “Are we going to be involved in second-guessing how people operate under the rules and laws of our country when they do not impact the legal parameters of the Legislature? I think that the Legislature does not want to go there.” Kelso pointed Sayler instead to “the remedy at the ballot box. … If constituents are concerned and have issues, they vote.” However, of course, Hart is unopposed for re-election in November.

Hart won’t answer questions, lets lawyer speak for him to Ethics Committee

Rep. Phil Hart won’t answer questions from the House Ethics Committee; instead, he’s letting his attorney, Starr Kelso, speak for him.

Raybould: ‘We’ve got to be careful’

Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, said in his view, a legislator can’t have a conflict of interest on a bill if it affects anyone other than the legislator himself. “I think we have to be careful here in terms of singling out a particular piece of legislation that Rep. Hart may be involved with, unless it pertains to him only,” Raybould declared. “If it pertains to anyone else or any class of people that would benefit in a like manner of that which a member voting it or sponsoring it would achieve, I think we’ve got to be careful or we’re not going to be able to have anyone involved in our legislative capacity except people who don’t have family and don’t have jobs.” His comment drew an appreciative mutter from Hart supporters in the audience.