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Records show Boise city gov't using public resources to influence election

Records show Boise city gov't using public resources to influence election

Wayne Hoffman
July 20, 2010
Wayne Hoffman
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July 20, 2010

BOISE -- Records obtained through the state's Public Records Act show Boise city officials are engaging in campaign activity on the taxpayers' dime, attempting to win passage of a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. The Idaho Freedom Foundation filed a public records request in June, asking for documents related to House Joint Resolution 5. HJR 5, if approved during the November general election, would allow cities to debt finance airport projects without a vote of the people.

"The documents clearly illustrate that the city is using public resources to advocate the passage of a ballot measure," said Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. "Our city halls, county and state offices and school districts should not be mini-electioneering factories working to promote the passage or failure of the issues on the ballot. Whether or not the city has broken the law is not the issue. It clearly has violated the public's trust through the misuse of public resources."

Among the documents are notes from a March 22 meeting of city officials including Mayor Dave Bieter and top aides. According to the meeting agenda and handwritten notes from the meeting, the mayor and his staff discussed the formation of a political action committee, fundraising for the organization and who would serve on its board.

In April, the state Legislative Services Office asked the city to develop statements for or against HJR 5 for the Secretary of State's election publications. City staff came up with two statements to educate voters why they might oppose the amendment: the fact that the amendment removes the supermajority vote requirement for all debt projects and that all airport funds "are public in nature and should require a supermajority vote." But when the city submitted its proposed statements to Legislative Services on April 23, it left out any potential statements that voters might consider to oppose the amendment. The city submitted six statements in support of the amendment.

"In case you were wondering why no AGAINST statements are included, it's because we couldn't come up with any good ones," wrote Ross Borden, the city's director of intergovernmental affairs, in his email to Mike Nugent, the director of legislation and research for the Legislative Services Office.

A June 11 email from Bieter to mayors and airport managers throughout Idaho clearly shows the city's interest is the passage of the amendment. In the email, Bieter asks for a meeting of city leaders "so we can discuss ways to work together to pass this important amendment."

On Tuesday, the Boise City Council is supposed to consider spending $60,000 to "educate" the public about HJR 5.

"The city is trying to label its effort as 'education.' Clearly, that's not the objective. The city is attempting to use public resources to influence the outcome of an election, and that's an inappropriate use of government resources," said Hoffman.

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