For those who don’t know, there is a phony “conservative” group that calls themselves the “Idaho Conservatives.”
Of course, when you go to their website nearly every article they have written attacks actual conservatives. To them, anyone to the right of Mitt Romney is “far-right.”
One of the things the group “Idaho Conservatives” like to attack groups like the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance (ISAA) for is “campaign finance violations.”
To be clear, Idaho’s Sunshine Laws have a ton of gray areas, and often times the state just decides what something means on the fly. The Idaho Second Amendment Alliance fought the state back in 2018 for alleged violations.
To this day I still don’t believe the ISAA should have to file what the state claims we have to file. When the Secretary of State’s office got tired of our questions for clarity on the law, they got the Attorney General to threaten us.
In the end, we filed some paperwork and moved on from the issue. However, I fully expect that when other groups are spending money on elections that everyone is treated equally.
For example, back in April of this year, I was writing an article about Representative Greg Chaney on my personal website (GregPruett.com) and I called the Secretary of State’s Office. I asked them if I were to boost (advertise) the article if I had to file any paperwork since it wasn’t coming from my non-profit and I wasn’t telling people in the article to vote for or against Chaney (he had no opponent BTW) and I was told that if I spent more than $100 “advertising” the article, I had to file a report.
Well, back in May of this year I did some research and realized that the group “Idaho Conservatives” had spent somewhere in the range of $2,000 to $3,000 on articles that attacked quite a few legislators, and yet no reports were ever filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.
I filed a complaint back in June just after the election was over and asked the Secretary of State’s Office for an explanation. We are still waiting to hear the official response from their office or the Attorney General’s office.
For some clarity, here is what Idaho’s law (Idaho Code 67-6602) says about what is commonly called “electioneering communication.”
Additionally, here is the code (67-6628) that says anyone (or group) incurring costs of $100 or more doing electioneering communication must file a report stating such:
Essentially, any time an individual or group spends money ($100 or more) online, through radio, mail, or any other method, they must file a report for electioneering communication and disclose their donors and what the money was spent on.
In the case of Idaho Conservatives, any articles that were being boosted after April 19th would have needed to be disclosed with the Secretary of State’s office. That is the “30 Day” window mentioned above.
There are some exceptions to electioneering communication. Here is what Idaho’s law lists as exceptions to filing reports.
In this case, Idaho Conservatives are not run by a candidate that anyone is aware of or controlled by any political committee. They are also not a news website.
Idaho Conservatives is a blog where two individuals, Gregory Graf and Jennifer Ellis, make vicious attacks on activists and legislators who are trying to protect Idaho from liberals. News according to what I have been told previously refers to “actual news” media like KTVB, the Idaho Statesman, or the Idaho Press. Of course, it’s hard to identify any of them as news these days too.
Now, Idaho Conservatives could try to claim that they are exempt because their communication is done in the “regular course and scope of their business.”
However, I happen to know personally that this exception is not going to hold any water because that is exactly what the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance said in 2018 and that is when the Attorney General threatened our organization.
The Idaho Second Amendment Alliance as a regular part of our business does educate citizens on 2nd Amendment issues. That is quite literally our “regular scope of business.” But the state was in no mood to try and actually argue against us and that’s why they went to threatening to take us to court.
Simply put, there is no way the group “Idaho Conservatives” do not have to file the same reports everyone else does.
If the Secretary of State’s office or Attorney General finds that the group “Idaho Conservatives” do not need to file any reports, it would change Idaho’s election laws forever. Groups would simply use whatever loophole the group “Idaho Conservatives” used to not file in the future.
Finally, the group “Idaho Conservatives” could try and claim that they are only referring to candidates as a part of a “bill” or “statute” but the articles that were written are attacks on numerous legislators. While some articles do mention bills, there are numerous attacks on legislative candidates that do not mention bills and would negate the exception to the rule here.
Now, let’s looks at some of the ads that Idaho Conservatives ran and some snippets from their articles that show they mention candidates’ names and within the 30-day window before the primary. (It should be noted that the date for reporting also extended to June 2nd and anything that was spent until that time.)
From all of these articles that were boosted, you can see that they all fell within the 30-day window of the Idaho primary election and you can also see that more than $100 was spent on each of them.
And we have four more ads Idaho Conservatives ran which also fit into the electioneering communication standards.
Finally, once $1,000 or more has been spent on an electioneering communication, a “48-Hour Report” must be filed. Two of the ads that the group “Idaho Conservatives” ran are budgeted at $1,000.
No reports, including 48-Hour reports, have ever been filed by the group “Idaho Conservatives.”
Are they above the law? Do they know someone in government who is letting them off the hook for their violations?
Or is this going to be a case where the government has a double standard for groups like the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance, myself personally, and phony “conservatives” like the group “Idaho Conservatives?”
We are awaiting the decision from the Secretary of State’s office and the Attorney General’s office on the issue.