Idaho Sues to Reveal Secret Donors to School Reform Ballot Measure

Monday, October 29, 2012
Debbie Field

The flood of secret money washing over the 2012 elections is not limited to the presidential campaign or even to high-profile contests for the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives or governor. Last week, for example, the state of Idaho filed suit against a secretive group that has spent more than $200,000 on campaign ads supporting three school reform ballot measures but refuses to disclose its donors as required by state law. Judge Mike Wetherell, who sits on Idaho’s Fourth District Court, will hold a hearing on the case today at 1:30 pm.

 

The group, which calls itself “Education Voters of Idaho” (EVI), popped up in August and gave $200,350 to a political committee called “Parents for Education Reform” (PER), which immediately spent the money on statewide TV ads. EVI is PER’s only contributor, and the two groups share the same mailing address and at least some personnel, according to the state’s Verified Complaint.

 

The contribution and expenditures “were made, directly or indirectly, in a fictitious name, anonymously, or through an agent or other person in such a manner as to conceal the identity or identities of the source(s) of the contributions to EVI,” the state alleges in a separate motion for immediate relief.

 

Idaho’s suit is based on Idaho’s Sunshine Law, enacted by voter initiative in 1974, which states that any person or organization that receives or spends more than $500 to support or oppose a ballot measure is a political committee under Idaho law, and must disclose its donors. The law “prohibits gamesmanship by which nested political committees string together a daisy chain of contributions and expenditures that hide the true contributors,” according to the state.

 

The school reform measures on Idaho’s November election ballot would retain three controversial reform laws that undercut teachers’ collective bargaining rights, impose a merit-pay bonus scheme and mandate laptop computers and online courses for high school students. A no vote would repeal the laws.

 

EVI’s co-founders, John Foster and Debbie Field, contend that because EVI is incorporated as a 501(c)4 nonprofit, it need not disclose its donors, a position the state rejects, noting that the Sunshine Law provides no exception for nonprofits.

 

The state is asking Judge Wetherell to order EVI to disclose its donors by November 2. “The purpose of pre-election disclosure requirements…is to inform the people before they vote on the measures of the sources of the money being spent for and against the measures,” the state argues. “The harm of hiding that information until after the election cannot be undone by post-election disclosure.”

-Matt Bewig

 

To Learn More:

Idaho Sues to Force Disclosure of Secret Donors (by Betsy Z. Russell, Spokane Spokesman-Review)

Judge Mike Wetherell Gets Secret-Donations Case, Hearing Re-Set to Monday (by Betsy Z. Russell, Spokane Spokesman-Review)

Ysursa v. EVI (Verified Complaint) (pdf)

Comments

Matt Bewig 6 years ago
UPDATE: Judge Wetherell ruled yesterday that EVI must disclose its donors by 3 pm on Halloween. “Voters are entitled to know who is standing behind the curtain,” he wrote in a 19-page decision. “Idaho voters passed the Sunshine Initiative to give themselves the right to see who is trying to influence their vote.” He also wrote: “Idaho law is clear and unambiguous. There can be no anonymous contributions either in favor of or in opposition to Propositions 1, 2 and 3.” EVI is expected to file an appeal with the Idaho Supreme Court.

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