BOISE — The Idaho Republican Party is suing the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee (BCRCC) “to protect the integrity of the Idaho primaries” after the BCRCC and its leaders endorsed and made donations to candidates running in the primary election.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday afternoon in Ada County and the party, along with chairman Tom Luna, is asking a judge for a temporary restraining order to stop specific flyers from being distributed and donations from being made.
“I filed a lawsuit asking the court to stop the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee from engaging in misleading campaign activities that, among other things, are in violation of election laws,” Luna said in a statement. “The consequences of the BCRCC action not only put the BCRCC at legal risk but also the Idaho Republican Party. One of my responsibilities as Chairman of the Idaho Republican Party is to defend the party and its brand, and I intend to do just that. Either the Republican Party is the party of law and order or we’re not.”
Bonneville County Executive Committee members named in the lawsuit include chairman Mark Fuller, Aaron Tolson, Anthony Tirino, Nicholas Contos, Bryan Smith, Andrew Russell, Diane Jensen, Barbara Miller, Doyle Beck, and Linn Hawkins.
Fuller could not be reached for comment Thursday night, but during a BCRCC meeting, he expressed shock at the lawsuit.
“They are claiming irreparable harm because we have used our free speech right (to endorse candidates), as the rules allow,” Fuller said. “I am frankly dumbfounded that our own Republican Party would sue us.”
The party has appointed Bryan Zollinger to represent them in the suit, and they plan to fight the complaint.
“I’m not going to apologize because I don’t believe we’ve done anything wrong. I’m prepared to defend us,” Fuller said.
Why the lawsuit was filed
The complaint comes after the state party has chastised the BCRCC twice in recent weeks. In a letter dated May 10, Luna criticized the BCRCC for distributing a flyer titled “Official Republican Party Sample Ballot.” It recommends a list of specific candidates for voters to consider during the Republican primary on May 17.
Luna said the brochures were “intentionally designed to deceive voters into believing that the Idaho Republican Party has endorsed the candidates listed.”
Fuller in a previous interview with EastIdahoNews.com disagreed with that assessment. He says the flyers are from the BCRCC and “no honest individual” could think otherwise.
“It’s got our logo on it, it has our website on it, it has our phone number on it. It repeatedly says ‘Bonneville County Republican Party,’” says Fuller. “Anybody who can read can tell who put this out.”
Luna also sent a letter at the end of March, reprimanding the BCRCC for donating to the following candidates:
- Rep. Ron Nate, who is running for re-election to the Idaho House as a representative for District 34
- Raul Labrador, who is hoping to replace Lawrence Wasden as Idaho Attorney General
- Rep. Priscilla Giddings, who is running for Idaho Lieutenant Governor
- Rep. Dorothy Moon, who is running for Secretary of State
- Douglas Toomer, who is vying to represent District 35 in the Idaho Senate
- Rep. Barbara Ehardt, who is hoping to maintain her seat in the Idaho House, representing District 33.
The committee followed up by removing a bylaw in their local policies that disallowed donations to candidates in primary races. Leaders also ratified donations that broke the bylaw and authorized a $1,000 donation to the congressional campaign of Bryan Smith, who is running against Congressman Mike Simpson.
What the lawsuit claims
The Idaho GOP remains neutral in contested primary elections by having rules in place that prohibit local Republican organizations from endorsing candidates except at the county level.
The BCRCC is accused in the lawsuit of breaching its contract with the state party and “going rogue” by “repeatedly and brazenly flout(ing) their obligations under Idaho state law and the Idaho GOP’s State Party Rules by funding and promoting their preferred slate of non-county level primary candidates.”
Voters have already shown up at polling places with the false and misleading flyer, according to the lawsuit, and the BCRCC reportedly plans to continue distributing it until Tuesday evening.
“Further misleading voters, this flyer lacked information about the true source of its funding, as required by federal and state campaign finance law, thus potentially exposing the Idaho GOP to needless litigation and compliance costs and reputational injury,” the lawsuit says. “Nothing short of judicial intervention can safeguard the rights of plaintiffs and Idaho’s candidates and voters.”
Luna and the Idaho Republican Party are asking a judge to immediately:
- Declare unlawful and void the endorsements of candidates made by the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee
- Prohibit the BCRCC and its leaders from endorsing any particular Republican candidates in a contested Republican primary election
- Prohibit the BCRCC and its leaders from making further direct cash contributions to Republican candidates in contested Republican primary elections
A time and date have not been set for a hearing on the lawsuit.