Investigation into possible campaign finance violations by homebuilder Ada PAC remains open months later

He first filed a state complaint against the CCFTG in late October for lack of campaign finance reports detailing donations and expenditures, even though their publicity against Sanchez had already begun in earnest earlier that month. At the time of her complaint, the last time the CCFTG had filed a campaign finance report was in December 2020 and there was no new information on their spending on the new round of ads for the 2021 election or on the identity of their donors.

In October last year, without a report being filed, the CCFTG sent mass text messages to voters linking them to a professionally produced campaign video criticizing Sanchez and bought a political advertisement on a billboard. State Street display. Idaho’s campaign financial reporting law requires PACs to file monthly reports of their cash in hand, donations, and expenses. PACs are also required to file reports 48 hours after spending funds on ads or other communications that mention a candidate for election, whether it’s an attack ad or an ad in support of a specific candidate.

A screenshot of an ad against City Council member Lisa Sanchez led by conservative Citizens for Thoughtful Growth

This complaint was dismissed and the CCFTG did not have to pay a fine. According to screenshots from the Idaho Secretary of State’s campaign finance reporting website in December, the PAC filed retroactive reports on its spending and donations throughout the months of the election afterwards.

Asked about subsequent filings and whether they were made at the request of the Idaho secretary of state, Houck said any candidate or committee can make changes to any report at any time after they are due. He did not respond directly to questions about whether the CCFTG breached procedure by not filing the reports on time or whether the reports were filed as a result of the complaint.

“The law requires reports to be filed in a timely manner (before a deadline), and candidates and committees attest to their accuracy in the submission process,” Houck wrote in an email to BoiseDev. “In this regard, making an amendment at a later date is not in itself a sign of having broken a law, nor does it preclude it.”

What about the still open complaint?

Anderson’s second complaint regarding CCFTG and BIG TV, which dated Dec. 15, is still under investigation and it is unclear when the case will be closed.

CCTFG campaign finance documents revealed that the organization began paying for its advertising campaigns during the election with contributions only from BIG TV instead of individual donors, such as the Building Contractors Association of Southwestern Idaho PAC, Shadow Mountain Homes and Hammett Homes in 2020. Because BIG TV is classified by the Secretary of State as an unincorporated nonprofit organization and describes itself as an “educational research center” on its Facebook page, the group’s donors do not are not disclosed.

Campaign finance reports for CCFTG show that BIG TV’s donations to the PAC accurately reflect expenses paid to Star-based advertising company 123Decal LLC. For example, CCFTG’s October monthly report shows that the company has accrued a debt of $13,298 to 123DecalLLC for their services. BIG TV donated that exact amount on Nov. 2, the same day the Idaho Secretary of State’s system shows CCFTG filed its October report. The pattern repeated itself a week later when CCFTG ran up a debt of $11,024 to 123Decal LLC on November 9, and BIG TV donated the exact amount on the day the debt is marked as paid on the reporting system. of State.

Anderson challenged the practice in his complaint to the Secretary of State’s office, alleging “that they may have hidden the donors who funded the ad campaigns for and against the candidates.” He also pointed to six Facebook ads aired by BIG TV for Willits, MacMillan and Kuna City Council candidate Tyson Garten. At the time of Anderson’s complaint, BIG TV had not filed any election returns (which are required whenever an organization or individual sends communications about a candidate) or any information about its donors or expenses.

A screenshot of the Facebook ads run by BIG TV during the 2021 municipal elections. Via the Facebook Ads Library

Idaho’s secretary of state staff forwarded Anderson’s complaint to Jeremy Chou, an attorney for Givens Pursley, who was representing BIG TV on Dec. 20, according to emails obtained by BoiseDev via a public records request. Chou responded in a letter Dec. 29, with disclosure forms attached sharing $22,018 in expenses in support of Willits and MacMillan. He said advertising for Garten as BIG TV was a mistake and was “immediately corrected” upon discovery.

“We have reviewed the allegations made by Mr. Anderson and deny any intentional violation of Idaho’s Sunshine Law,” the letter said. “The Treasure Valley Building Industry Group is a trade league dedicated to education, networking and industry support for the residential construction market. Its primary activity is not political. As a result, he was unaware of Idaho’s disclosure requirements.

After the election, BIG TV formed its own PAC: Building Industry Group of Treasure Valley PAC, which Martinez also heads. PAC filed two independent expense reports reimbursing 123Decal LLC for ad campaign services on Nov. 18, and its only donation so far has been $10,000 from the nonprofit arm of BIG TV.

A pattern of non-enforcement

In the past two years, none of the campaign finance complaints reported to the Idaho Secretary of State have resulted in fines.

BoiseDev has requested the reports and results of every campaign finance complaint filed with the state agency for 2020, 2021 and so far for 2022 as part of reporting for this story. Of the 13 complaints, none resulted in a fine and the only report left open is Anderson’s from December.

Five of the complaints came from Bingham County resident Travis Oler, who is currently running against Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, as a Democrat. He denounced the Blaine County Republican Women’s Group for donating $2,000 to two candidates without filing financial disclosure reports, as well as the Idaho Freedom Foundation for releasing a video with two lawmakers who, according to him, should have demanded an election report.

Details of his Idaho Freedom Foundation report were not included in BoiseDev’s public records request, but the Secretary of State’s staff emailed him in July 2021, informing him that the Under Secretary of State Jason Hancock found an election report unnecessary. The June 2021 Blaine County Republican Women’s Complaint also resulted in no fines.

Oler also pointed to the Idaho Freedom Foundation in 2020. He cited a payment of $11,341 from his fellow 501(c)(4) organization Idaho Freedom Action to IFF for “cross-costs for labor, overhead and printing”. Oler wrote in his complaint that if the Idaho Freedom Foundation incurred those costs, the nonprofit should have filed an election return, not the Idaho Freedom Action. Nonprofit organizations, such as the Idaho Freedom Foundation, are prohibited from engaging in political lobbying and campaigning under federal tax law. Oler’s complaint did not result in any fines.

Another complaint from Oler came in August 2020 when he reported to Young that she paid herself $650 for broadcast ad services instead of the company or individual who produced the ad. A few months later, in October, he reported to the Bonneville County Republican Party a September monthly report that was two weeks late and an error in a report that incorrectly identified a donor. Both complaints did not result in any fines.

Rep. Scott Syme, R-Wilder, filed a lawsuit against his 2020 primary opponent Mila Wood for incorrect campaign finance records. He reported an incomplete report for March that was not corrected until mid-May, a late report for April, a reference to a starting balance of $2,000 with no source information, and three anonymous donations recorded. in the April report.

In an email to Syme, a member of the Secretary of State’s staff reviewed the four elements of the complaint and explained how they were resolved. The email said the incomplete March report was not a violation because a report had always been on file, even though it must have been amended twice. The email also said Wood’s April report was filed within 48 hours of the deadline, which is a grace period, so there was no fine.

The initial unsourced balance was a loan from Wood to his campaign, which his treasurer was unable to modify after mistakenly entering it without a source. The matter was resolved when the Secretary of State explained to him the process for changing the reports. The Secretary of State also informed Wood’s Treasurer that all donations must include names and addresses and that anonymous donor information has been entered into the system.

A 2022 campaign finance complaint against independent gubernatorial candidate Ammon Bundy also resulted in no fines.

Two complaints were referred to county clerks for investigation, one in Valley County and one in Kootenai County.

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