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Local party chair reverses course on distributing anonymous political flyers

East Idaho Elects

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IDAHO FALLS — The Chairman of the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee has withdrawn his invitation for committeemen to pass out door hangers slamming incumbent members of the Idaho Falls City Council. The person behind the flyers has not been publicly identified.

The two-sided flyer tells people to “remove these incumbents from office” and says Jim Francis, Jim Freeman and Lisa Burtenshaw “support the leftist agenda.” The other side encourages voters to elect “limited government, conservative candidates” Robert Thompson, Karie Caldwell and Sandra Hokanson.

Thompson, Caldwell and Hokanson all said Monday they were not part of distributing the flyers and did not know who is responsible for them.

“It’s turning hurtful,” Burtenshaw said about the current council race. “It’s turned hurtful that from September you’re really willing to put yourself out there … spend all of the time necessary to represent yourself and your thoughts … It’s hard to put the time and effort into it and have something like this come out at the last minute.

On Monday, an email circulated among the community from Bonneville County GOP Chairman Mark Fuller, which gave some clues about the flyers. In the email, Fuller invited people to deliver the flyers.

The email was addressed to precinct committee officers and said while the county committee has not endorsed any candidates for city council races, they had voted to donate funds to the three challengers.

“A private individual has printed door knob (sic) flyers encouraging support for the challengers and I have a large number of those flyers in my office, if you would like to pick those up and distribute them in your precincts this weekend before the election,” the email from Fuller reads in part.

Fuller declined to tell who printed the flyers but said he would pass our contact information onto the person. That person has not reached out to us.

RELATED | Mysterious door hangings in Idaho Falls City Council race likely violate Idaho law

“(The flyers) were just purchased by an individual exercising his free speech rights,” Fuller initially said during a phone interview. “Where he is not a candidate and where he’s not supporting any specific candidate, he has no obligation to put his name on the flyers is my understanding.”

About 30 minutes after Fuller spoke with, he called back and said that after further investigation, the Bonneville County GOP would not be involved in handing out flyers.

“I have decided this is something the party should not be involved in,” Fuller said. “We’re not going to be involved in distributing any of the flyers.”

Fuller said he asked the man who made the flyers to pick them up from his office. None of the flyers at the office were delivered by the party, Fuller said.

“This kind of thing shuts people out of wanting to engage in the process,” Burtenshaw said. This is the expectation that the last minute, 11th hour, they’re going to come out with something. This smear was anticipated.”

The flyers do not say who paid for them and appears to be a violation of a section of Idaho’s “Sunshine Law,” which directs political funding and lobbyist activity disclosure. Idaho law says “the person responsible for such communication shall be clearly indicated” on campaign signs or other materials.

“You got a couple of different thresholds there and the key one there is (that) it expressly advocates the election or defeat of a candidate, or candidates,” Idaho Deputy Secretary of State Jason Hancock said.

Hancock said if the flyer or other advertising does meet those advocating guidelines then it needs to say on the flyer who is responsible for it. The law even applies to a private person paying for advertising for or against specific candidates.

“These Sunshine Laws don’t prevent anybody from speaking freely and from putting out whatever kind of advertising they want to put out to advocating for the election or defeat of any particular candidate,” Hancock said. “All the Sunshine Laws require is that they say on the advertising who paid for it so the people know where it’s coming from.”

Bonneville County Clerk Penny Manning said the county has received complaints of the flyers and is aware of the situation. Manning further said election officials will be meeting with the county’s civil attorneys to determine how to move forward. If an investigation is conducted, it would be done by the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office.

“We are taking those complaints, we are taking them seriously and we will follow up to see what we need to do,” Manning said.

A violation of this section of the Sunshine Law is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. The maximum fine for violating the law is $250 if it is an individual, and $2,500 if it is a group.