No charges or fines shall be levied against the Republican Central Committee of Kootenai County for its participation in a publication entitled The pen of the people after an investigation by the offices of the Secretary of State and the Attorney General.
Assistant Secretary of State Chad Houck said that while there was a bill paid in full by the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, the office determined that the remainder of the evidence uncovered during an investigation did not was not strong enough to prove that the committee controls and pays for the publication, which would be a violation of Idaho’s campaign finance law.
Secretary of State Lawerence Denney sent a letter Sept. 13 to Sandra Patano saying the office was closing the investigation. Patano, who is a co-founder of the Northern Idaho Republicans, filed the complaint on May 13 alleging that the publication is an election article that should be reported as such.
What Does Idaho’s Election Communications Law Say?
Under Idaho law, newspapers are exempt from what are considered campaign communications or independent expenses during elections, which means a news outlet can publish editorials and endorsements or other commentary. on the candidates and that communications need not be reported to the office of the Secretary of State. Election communications are advertisements or other messages intended to support or oppose candidates that must be reported to the office of the Idaho Secretary of State within 30 days of a primary election.
However, Idaho law states that a newspaper is not exempt if it is owned or controlled by a political party or candidate.
Houck said that because the central committee disclosed all of its expenses, the office made the decision not to pursue a legal case for practical reasons.
The complaint is part of the back and forth between the Republican organizations
Sandy Patano, the person who filed the lawsuit, founded North Idaho Republicans with her husband, Jack Riggs. Patano has lived in northern Idaho for most of his life and worked on the staff of former U.S. Senator Larry Craig for 18 years. Riggs is a former lieutenant governor of Idaho, and he and Patano started the group in March to counter what they call an extremist takeover by libertarian groups calling themselves Republicans in the Coeur d’Alene area. . The group spoke out against the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee and its tactics, saying they do not represent true Republicans.
Kootenai County Republican Central Committee Chairman Brent Regan filed his own complaint with the Secretary of State’s office against Republicans in northern Idaho in early May because the organization failed to register in as a political action committee before purchasing an ad in the Coeur d’Alene Press voter guide. . The group was fined $2,500, the maximum penalty under Idaho law. Regan called Patano’s complaint retaliatory and politically motivated.
“The attorney general’s office had to look at what kind of case you can build from the information you have and the information you can gather,” Houck said. “We had to look at that and say, ‘Is there a case out there that we think is ultimately winnable? Because when you take something like that and get into a legal environment with it, the compensation is…if you’re unsuccessful in challenging your case, the winning party can charge the non-winning party’s attorney fees.
At best, Houck said, a successful case would have simply resulted in requiring future publications to explicitly state on the cover that they were paid for by the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee. And at worst, it could have cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in attorney fees, he said.
“The case strategy that (the attorney general’s office) ultimately presented to us was not a case that we were comfortable advising them or asking them to pursue,” Houck said.
Invoice amounts reflect Idaho central committee independent expenses
Five issues of the People’s Pen have been published since October 2021, and the editions include in-depth interviews with candidates endorsed by the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, a description of the committee’s candidate selection process for endorsements, and endorsements for the school board and the city. elections.
Houck said the committee leadership’s explanation for paying almost all of the October 2021 bill was that the publisher asked them to, “because it was the only way to do it. and on the street in time…. So it was just an anomaly in terms of the procedure followed by the editor.
The Sun obtained public documents related to the investigation which included the five invoices from TPC Holdings, a Lewiston company that prints the Lewiston Tribune and the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, as well as other trade publications and advertisements.
The October 2021 bill shows payments from the central committee and several other people who placed ads in the People’s Pen, including Idaho Senate candidate Ben Toews. TPC Holdings printed 75,000 copies of the 16-page edition and provided postage, for a total of approximately $19,000. The central committee paid more than $13,000 of the bill.
Invoices are addressed to Joel Bevacqua at a post office box in Coeur d’Alene.
Bevacqua appears to be a Coeur d’Alene musician who goes by DJ Deadly Buda, and records show Bevacqua donating $200 to the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee in December. Bevacqua could not be reached for comment.
In an email, The Sun asked Kootenai County Republican Central Committee Chairman Brent Regan several questions about the People’s Pen, including who Bevacqua is and why he was getting the bills.
“I cannot answer many of your questions because I have no proprietary knowledge of the workings or plans of The People’s Pen publication,” Regan said.
The February and early April invoices are for smaller print jobs, at 10,000 copies and 5,000 copies, respectively, and show payment from Glacier Family and Bevacqua itself.
The April bill reflects 74,000 copies of a 20-page edition plus postage, for a total of $22,136. It does not specify who paid the bill, but the central committee reported that exact amount as an independent expense in April.
The amount doubled for the May edition, with 125,844 copies of the 24-page issue plus postage, for a total of $41,631. Again, this doesn’t reflect who footed the bill, but the central committee reported the exact spending total in May.
The Sun requested other public documents related to the investigation, but Houck said many of the documents were protected by attorney-client privilege with the Idaho attorney general’s office.
April Bill and Exp
May Invoice and Exp
The registered agent for the Idaho entity is a former legislative candidate
Although the People’s Pen is now registered as a foreign business entity in Idaho with its main operations in Wyoming, it was not registered in Idaho until May – nearly seven months after the distribution of the first edition to Idaho households. Under Idaho law, there is no penalty for doing business without registering as a foreign entity.
“As a result of the investigation, the Attorney General’s Office sent a letter to the People’s Pen’s
registered agent in Wyoming, requiring the People’s Pen to register in Idaho. The People’s Pen did,” Denney wrote in the September letter.
A copy of Deputy Attorney General Robert Berry’s letter obtained by the Sun showed it was sent on May 23 and that the Pen registered as a foreign entity in Idaho on May 31.
The registered agent, according to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Foreign Entity Record, is Hari Heath. Heath has written several articles for the People’s Pen and unsuccessfully ran for legislative seat in the Coeur d’Alene area in 2018 and 2020.
It is not known if there will be another edition of The People’s Pen before the November 8 general election. The Kootenai County Republican Central Committee has not reported any expenditures to TPC Holdings since the May edition.
Patano said she was unhappy with the result and planned to continue her efforts to prove the committee’s involvement in the publication.
“(The committee is) very focused on election integrity, but I think that’s part of election integrity,” Patano said. “As a Republican, I want to make sure other Republicans are accountable, if that’s what they call themselves.”
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