BOISE — Rep. Codi Galloway, R-Boise, who is running for the state Senate, on Friday afternoon canceled her planned "Daddy Daughter Dance" campaign fundraiser Saturday at a public school in the West Ada School District after legal questions were raised.
"The Daddy Daughter Dance will no longer be held at Centennial High School," Galloway told the Idaho Press via email.
West Ada School District spokesman Greg Wilson confirmed that Galloway canceled the event via an email to the high school. "Please do not worry about refunding the fee," she wrote in her cancellation email. The move came after questions over the legality of holding a political campaign fundraiser at a public school, in light of a 2018 Idaho law forbidding public property or resources from being used for candidates' campaigns.
Galloway also requested, and the school district sent out, more than 700 electronic flyers advertising the "Daddy Daughter Dance" to households with students at the Spalding STEM Academy in the district. Admission for the event was set at $40 to $50, with proceeds to the campaign. A small line at the bottom of the flyers said, "Event hosted by Codi 4 Idaho," and below that, "Our district approves flyers from organizations as a community service and does not imply sponsorship nor endorsement of this program or event."
School district records showed Galloway had reserved space at Centennial for a similar event in April, but Galloway said the April dance was canceled and she never sold any tickets for it.
She is running for a state Senate seat in District 15, after defeating five-term Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, in the GOP primary; she faces Democrat Rick Just on the November ballot. Earlier this week, Martin endorsed Just for the seat, a first for him as far as endorsing a Democrat over a Republican.
As of Friday afternoon, all references to the fundraising event had been removed from Galloway's Facebook page and campaign website. Galloway is a first-term state representative.
David Leroy, a former GOP Idaho attorney general, said there are serious legal concerns about a political candidate holding a fundraiser for her campaign at a public school, and having the school district send out electronic flyers advertising it, regardless of whether the school district has a general policy of renting to anyone.
"Not only does a general rental policy not trump a specific prohibition in Idaho Code, but you've got two separate sets of issues here in terms of the alleged misuse of district property to advocate for a candidate," Leroy told the Idaho Press Friday morning. "It's not only the use of the school facility, but significantly, this use of the computer software and the computer system is specifically mentioned in the statute as something that's prohibited."
"So that is in effect an additional service which the school has rendered in aid of this candidacy that isn't even addressed by a general rental policy," Leroy said. "In my opinion as to both, it's not only bad form but probably noncompliant with statute if referred to the prosecutor or the Attorney General."
He also noted that the state law, Idaho Code 74-6, the Public Integrity in Elections Act, includes civil penalties ($250) in specified increasing amounts for violations that are "knowing" violations ($1,500) or for repeat violations within 12 months ($2,500).
And he added, "If you drill down on it, the fact that they have a general rental policy doesn't cover the most serious of the alleged transgressions. … 74-601 specifically prohibits the use of such computer software for that purpose."
Erik Berg, Ada County Democratic chairman, who had filed a formal letter of complaint with the school district over the proposed event, said, "Maybe people better understand the law and what's allowed and what's not, and hopefully people will do things by the book in the future. I appreciate that it does seem like people are paying attention to the law and I'm glad that we were able to keep all players honest."
However, Berg said he hasn't ruled out filing a complaint to the Ada County prosecutor and Idaho Attorney General's office over the sending of the flyers from the school district for a partisan fundraiser. "That is something we have to review," he said. "We're certainly going to continue looking at that, because it's inappropriate."
Rep. Jason Monks, RMeridian, lead sponsor of the 2018 law, said he spoke with Galloway on Friday and suggested she seek guidance from the Idaho attorney general's office, which she did. "I think Codi did everything right, to be honest with you," Monks said. "When somebody brought it to her attention that there was a potential problem legally, she voluntarily moved it."
A day earlier, Wilson defended the scheduling of the event, saying the district has "a very open rental policy."
Wilson said Galloway's application to rent the high school facility, for which she paid $716.74, identified herself as the renter, for "individual (personal use)" and made no mention of her campaign. She also selected the rate category for a "for-profit business."
"The way she inputted it on our system was that it was 'individual personal use,'" Wilson said.
Wilson said Galloway's rental request drew little attention because she'd previously reserved the facility for two similar events, both "Daddy Daughter Dance" events. One of those was in February of 2019, the other in April of this year.
"It's not tracked about who was the recipient of the funds raised at these events," Wilson said.
Galloway said the April event was canceled and she never sold any tickets for it. The 2019 event was an event for the Summer wind Skippers, a non-profit competitive kids jump rope team.
Kelsy Porter, head coach for the Summer wind Skippers, said Galloway organized successful fundraisers for the team when her kids were involved with it, but she hadn't heard anything about an event in April of this year. The Summer wind Skippers in the past year performed at events including Treefort and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Wilson said the district's electronic flyer delivery system functions through a vendor called PeachJar, and event sponsors must input information showing they qualify as 501c3 tax-exempt nonprofits and sign up for a subscription to access it. The Summer wind Skippers are a 501c3 nonprofit.
Lauren Necochea, House minority leader and chair of the Idaho Democratic Party, said Friday afternoon, "It's very troubling that an elected legislator would take actions that appear to violate state law. In addition to attempting to hold a political fundraiser in a public school and ask a public school to advertise for a political fundraiser, she also promoted this event in a misleading way. It was very hard to tell from the promotional materials that the funds from the ticket proceeds would go to a political campaign. And I hope she will issue refunds to people who bought tickets to the event without understanding that it was to promote her political campaign."
"We as elected officials and candidates always have to hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards," Necochea said. "And that's what Idahoans deserve from their leaders."
Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.