An Idaho legislator has sent out a campaign letter on what appears to be a copy of his official Idaho House of Representatives stationery, raising questions about use of official letterhead in a political campaign.
The letter from Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls, includes a disclaimer at the bottom of the page: “All costs associated with this mailing, including stationery, envelopes, or postage, have been paid by Don Cheatham.”
Cheatham disputed accusations he used a copy of his official letterhead. There are differences, he said, but he declined to elaborate. “Are you sure that’s the official state seal?” he asked in response to questions about the stationery. He also declined to supply a copy of his official letterhead in order to point out the differences.
Asked why the letter says across the top, “House of Representatives, State of Idaho,” Cheatham retorted angrily, “Because that’s where I work.”
Lawmakers have been discouraged from using official stationery or other indications of official state communications for campaign purposes, a concern that stretched back to before it was so easy to create a facsimile or imitation of official letterhead.
“This is one of those areas where it might not technically be a violation, but I think that there’s a legitimate question of do we want to encourage this sort of conduct or behavior,” said Deputy Idaho Attorney General Brian Kane, who advises the Legislature on ethics and other legal issues.
Kane said it’s essentially up to voters to decide what they think of the practice, which gives the initial impression that the voter is receiving an official communication from the state.
“To me, that’s probably the intent,” Kane said. “He wants folks to think that they’re getting an official communication, and it turns out to be a campaign thing – which is why I wouldn’t advise folks to do this.”
Kane said it’s the first instance he’s seen of possible use of official Legislature letterhead during the current campaign, but issues have cropped up for years about the line between an elected lawmaker’s official communications with constituents and campaign activity.
“Every now and then, you have a legislator that maybe mixes his official newsletter with a campaign thing,” Kane said. “By and large, when folks have had that brought to their attention, they’ve said, ‘Oh, that was an oversight, I did not mean to mix those together and I will fix it.’ ”
Cheatham said, “I would in no way intentionally violate any House rules. Any reports to the contrary are untrue.”
A first-term lawmaker, he is facing a challenge in the primary election May 17 from Peter Riggs, a local businessman and the son of former Idaho Lt. Gov. Jack Riggs.
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