On Thursday, Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, introduced legislation to limit government influence on elections throughout Idaho.
House State Affairs Committee members introduced the measure on a unanimous vote, which enables further deliberations on the bill in coming legislative days.
Monks’ bill would block local governments, such as cities, counties and school districts, from using government money or public property to promote political aims.
The Meridian legislator told colleagues that though the practice of using taxpayer-funded resources to influence elections isn’t common, it happens occasionally. He promised to present evidence at the full committee hearing.
Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, wondered if the bill would prevent cities from allowing political parties from setting up promotional booths at municipal events in public parks or elsewhere. Monks responded he believes his bill would still allow that.
There have been a number of instances of local governments using taxpayer-funded resources to influence elections through the last few months.
Last year, the College of Western Idaho spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a marketing campaign crafted, at least in part, to persuade voters to pass a $255 million tax hike to fund campus expansion. Money for that campaign came from the school’s strategic reserve account, previously funded by student fees. The school no longer charges students the fee to fill that account.
Last fall, Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd used her city’s public utility bill mailers to send a newsletter in support of bond measures presented by the Meridian Library District and the Western Ada Recreation District.
In December 2016, the Boise Independent School district allowed advocates of a $172 million bond request to politicize school holiday programs with pro-bond messages. Rory Jones, a Friends of Boise Schools leader and former trustee, defended the politicization.
At the time, IdahoReporter.com asked Jones, would opponents of the bond ever receive such a government-supported platform? Jones replied, “No.”
“There’s no need to provide equal time,” he said.
Just last week, a former Kuna School District board member voice disapproval after his district set up a web page and produced videos to promote its $40 million bond request.
Michael Law, the former school board member, took to social media to stump for change. “There is nothing like making taxpayers pay for promoting a tax that many oppose,” Law wrote on the social media site. “The State of Idaho Legislature needs to stop taxing districts from using taxpayer funds to promote levies or bonds.”
Kuna and Boise voters head to the polls in March to decide on the requests.
Note: The original version of this article characterized the CWI marketing effort as taxpayer-funded. This version has been revised to reflect the use of student fees to fund the campaign. IR regrets the error.