BOISE — The Idaho Secretary of State’s office has issued two fines for violations of campaign finance reporting laws in the run-up to the May 17 primary. It has also received numerous other complaints but says most don’t fall under its jurisdiction.
Chad Houck, chief deputy secretary of state, said many complaints the office has received either involve local races and so have been referred to counties, or they are about issues not covered in campaign finance laws, like lying in a campaign ad.
“That is potentially a civil issue – libel, slander,” Houck said, but there’s no campaign finance violation “as long as you disclose how you paid for the ad in which you lied, stretched the truth or whatever it is. I know that sounds weird, but we have to stick with what we can regulate.”
The two fines issued so far, both on Friday, were to North Idaho Republicans for failing to register as a political committee and file reports before purchasing an advertisement in the Coeur d’Alene Press, and to the Ed Humphreys campaign for governor for failing to note on an edited Glenn Beck video published on Facebook that the campaign paid to produce the video.
The North Idaho Republicans, pursuant to two complaints filed by Brent Regan, chairman of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, a rival to the group, were fined $2,500. The Humphreys campaign, pursuant to a complaint filed on behalf of rival candidate Janice McGeachin, was fined $250.
Former Idaho GOP Lt. Gov. Jack Riggs of Coeur d’Alene, who helped form North Idaho Republicans, said, “We didn’t know that we were crossing the line – that was not our intent. But when the Secretary of State’s office said that we had, it was like, ‘OK, we’ll comply.’ We’re going to comply with whatever the instructions are.”
The Humphreys campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.
North Idaho Republicans is a group of elected leaders in Kootenai County, including sheriffs, legislators, mayors and more, along with other longtime local party members and activists who oppose the current direction of the KCRCC under Regan. Regan also chairs the Idaho Freedom Foundation; under his leadership, the county GOP central committee has endorsed an array of far-right candidates in Republican primaries, angering local Republicans who were excluded.
On the North Idaho Republicans website, the group describes itself as “longtime local Republicans who are concerned about any form of extremism.”
Houck said after the first complaint came in about the North Idaho Republicans from Regan, he contacted the group and it indicated it didn’t plan to spend more than $100 or endorse candidates. Then, it ran a large advertisement in the local newspaper touting its website, which does recommend candidates, including, in some cases, more than one in the same race; that drew the second complaint from Regan.
Houck said, “So we immediately on that one asked for $2,500, the maximum.” That’s the fine for a “knowing and willful” violation of campaign finance reporting laws. The group is now taking steps to pay the fine and file the required reports, he said.
The Humphreys campaign issue came to light after the campaign posted the edited video on Facebook, and then the rival McGeachin campaign picked up the clip and posted it on its campaign Facebook page as well as McGeachin’s personal Twitter feed, without permission. The video was an edited clip of Glenn Beck disparaging Idaho Gov. Brad Little, and saying he didn’t believe Little would win the upcoming GOP primary.
The Humphreys campaign sent out a press release April 28 accusing the McGeachin campaign of plagiarism. “This is unacceptable and unethical,” Humphreys said in the release.
The campaign also posted a meme saying, “Crooks and career politicians think stealing is OK. 4/26 Ed Humphreys campaign created the video. 4/28 Janice McGeachin campaign stole the video.”
“The guy that made the video for Humphreys sent a letter to McGeachin, saying if she didn’t take it down he was going to bill her for it,” Houck said. “Her response was, ‘It didn’t say ‘paid for by,’ so I didn’t know you built it,” and that she thought it was just a Glenn Beck video. “So she filed a complaint that he didn’t put ‘paid for by,’” Houck said.
The complaint, submitted by Justin Matheson of Axiom Consulting “on behalf of client Janice McGeachin,” said, “Our campaign did not know it was produced by Humphreys’ team and immediately took down the post.”
Houck said he advised the Humphreys campaign to add the “paid for by” line, but it didn’t, so his office issued the fine. On Tuesday, the video on Humphreys’ campaign Facebook had the required credit line added.
Additional complaints still are coming in. On Monday, the Idaho 97 Project filed a complaint against 11 GOP primary candidates, charging that donations from California-based Rattlesnake Holdings, Webb Management Services Inc., Watt Webb and Rudy Webb were actually disguised individual donations that exceeded contribution limits.
“In total, businesses and individuals associated with the Webb family have donated $51,550 to candidates in 2022,” the project said in a press release on Monday. Its complaints named GOP candidates Janice McGeachin, Priscilla Giddings, Raul Labrador, Dorothy Moon, Eric Parker, Benjamin Toews, Heather Scott, Ron Nate, Karey Hanks, Lyle Johnstone and Greg Ferch.
Houck said Tuesday that the Secretary of State’s office is looking into the complaints, but they don’t appear to show violations thus far, with one relatively minor exception, an aggregate donation to McGeachin that’s $177 over the limit. Limits on campaign donations permit certain amounts to be donated for the primary election and for the general election. “At the moment, there isn’t anyone in there that is a clear violation of statute because of the way they spread the money out,” Houck said.
Several new complaints also arrived on Tuesday about a postcard sent out by the Bonneville County GOP, Houck said, though he said it appears the postcard did acknowledge that the Bonneville GOP was the source of the card. “It’s pretty clear who did it,” he said.
Houck said in most cases, his office will try to work with campaigns to get them to comply, rather than immediately imposing fines. “We go out and look for compliance first,” he said. “We’re given the opportunity to give a 24-hour notice.”