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Idaho Senate candidate may have violated Idaho Constitution in e-mail message

Idaho Senate candidate may have violated Idaho Constitution in e-mail message

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
July 14, 2010

Leif Skyving is a school board trustee for the Caldwell School District, but is also a Democratic candidate for the Idaho Senate, running against Republican John McGee in District 10.  It is not uncommon for an elected official to run for one office while holding another.  Skyving, however, may have violated the Idaho Constitution in an e-mail message sent from his official school account to employees of the school district in which he laid out his arguments against McGee's re-election and offered to provide refreshments for any employee who might want to hold a fundraiser for his campaign.

The e-mail, provided to IdahoReporter.com, appears to have been sent on June 17 from Skyving's official e-mail address to one address that sends his e-mail to every employee of the Caldwell School District.  In the message, Skyving says that McGee is "no friend of public education" and says that he is "shocked by the lack of interest in by a majority of our legislators for creative solutions in regards to the current crisis in education."    He explained that since his campaign began in April, he has visited more than 1,000 households, most of which, he proclaims, are concerned about recent education budget cuts.  He also points a finger at the Idaho Education Association (IEA), blasting the group for not supporting his campaign bid because it sees McGee as unbeatable.  He describes the lack of IEA's confidence in his campaign as a "tough pill to swallow" in the message.

But the letter was much more than jabs at McGee, the IEA, or the Republican-controlled Legislature in Idaho; Skyving, who clearly identified himself as an elected official with the district twice within his text, was looking to get in touch with teachers who support his election bid.  "I am writing to you, not only to thank you for your service, but to ask for your help," he wrote midway through the message.  "That is why I am asking anyone who can organize a meet-and-greet (my campaign will provide refreshments), social gatherings, question-and-answer session, fundraisers, and/or donate funds to please contact me.  I would like to meet and speak with as many educators as possible, as soon as possible."

Skyving told IdahoReporter.com that the e-mail was a simple oversight on his part.  “I was not aware of the policy at that time,” he said.  He said that though he has had messages of support from teachers frustrated with budget cuts at the state level, no teachers or other district staffers have volunteered to hold campaign events for him.

Bob Cooper, spokesman for the state attorney general's office, said incidents like this happen "in almost every election cycle."  Cooper said that his office can't do anything about the e-mail because it isn't within its jurisdiction.  He did, however, point to a publication penned by an attorney in his office in 1996 regarding political communication using state resources.  That text, written to the president of Idaho State University at the time, said that "Article 7, section 10 of the Idaho Constitution prohibits public officers and state employees from using state time, money or resources for making a profit or for other purposes not authorized by law. The use of state resources for economic gain and for political activity is a prohibited use of state property. Thus, state employees with access to state-owned Internet services cannot use those services for personal pecuniary benefit or political or campaign-related activities."  If there is a case against Skyving, Cooper explained, it would have to be pursued by the Canyon County prosecuting attorney.  Calls to that office have not been returned.

Caldwell School District Superintendent Roger Quarles told IdahoReporter.com that Skyving was in clear violation of the district's Internet use policy, which prevents political communication like the one sent out by the candidate.  Quarles said that as soon as he received the e-mail message, he immediately contacted Skyving to inform him of the violation.  Quarles described Skyving at that time as "apologetic and upset with himself that he had violated a code that he is charged with creating and enforcing."  The mistake, Quarles explained, may have been a simple oversight or misunderstanding on Skyving's part.  "In defense of Leif," Quarles said, "he is out newest trustee and we have an abundance of policies."  Skyving has been a trustee since 2008.

Following Skyving's message, the superintendent issued formal apologies to McGee, the IEA, and district staffers.  In his message to district employees, Quarles said he also reminded them of proper communication using district resources.

McGee declined to comment on the story.

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