City attorney says pro-Casper Facebook group must register as a PAC

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IDAHO FALLS — The Idaho Falls City Attorney’s Office says a Facebook group dedicated to countering the Businesses For Growth political action committee is in violation of the Idaho Sunshine Law for not registering itself as a PAC.

The Businesses for Growth Facts Facebook community page was created around Nov. 15, in response to Businesses for Growth, a registered PAC that formed against the re-election of Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper.

Since the group’s creation, Businesses for Growth Facts members have spent the majority of their posts countering arguments made by Businesses for Growth and the PAC’s chairman, Adam Frugoli. However, a number of the posts appear to specifically back Casper’s candidacy and oppose City Councilwoman Barbara Ehardt, Casper’s opponent.

As of Tuesday night, the page had fewer than 200 members.

Evan Bastow, an Idaho Falls resident who supports Ehardt, filed a complaint with the city on Nov. 29, claiming Businesses for Growth Facts violated the law. His biggest complaint with the Facts group is that they have not revealed who is running the community page.

“The whole point of the Sunshine Law is that things aren’t done in secrecy,” Bastow told EastIdahoNews.com. “They are hiding behind a Facebook community page … and I just think it’s appropriate that they register with the city. This group has been very active for the mayor and very against Barbara.”

CLICK HERE TO READ BASTOW’S COMPLAINT

Idaho’s campaign finance laws define a political action committee as “any individual, corporation, association, firm, partnership, committee, political party, club, or other organization or group of persons … specifically designated to support or oppose any candidate or measure.”

In a letter Tuesday to Facts group attorney Steve Taggart, Assistant City Attorney Michael Kirkham asserts the group meets that definition based on members’ posts.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE LETTER FROM KIRKHAM TO TAGGART

“The Facts group clearly backs Rebecca Casper for Idaho Falls mayor and opposes Barbra Ehardt and posts repeatedly in support of and in opposition to these candidates. As a result, the Facts group falls under the definition of a ‘political committee’ and must comply with the Idaho Campaign Elections law,” Kirkham said in his letter.

Kirkham instructs the group to file as a PAC with the city and file a financing statement that complies with Idaho law — even if it did not take any contributions or spend any money. If the paperwork is not filed, the city attorney’s office may take additional actions, including misdemeanor proceedings and up to $2,500 in fines, according to the letter.

When EastIdahoNews.com contacted City Attorney Randy Fife Tuesday night on his cell phone to ask why his office waited until election day to issue the letter, he said it was “inappropriate” to speak with him when he was at home, and we’d have to follow up with him on Wednesday.

Taggart claims the city attorney’s office is reading the state statute incorrectly, and that he’ll need to confer with his clients about moving forward. He did not go into any other details, but in a story with the Post Register on Nov. 29, he said “the group isn’t required to disclose because it hasn’t engaged in communication advocating support for or defeat of either a candidate or a ballot measure.”

He also told the newspaper the group has “neither raised nor spent a penny, so its communications don’t qualify as electioneering communication.”

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