Last week, in mailboxes all over Idaho, a two-section, 48-page newsprint publication arrived under the name The Idahoan. It caused quite a stir. But, most Idahoans probably ignored it, or tossed it in the round file.
The front page proclaimed: “Written by Conservatives --- Information for Everyone”, accompanied by pictures of JFK and Ronald Reagan.
Idaho Democrats overreacted, calling for an investigation. Many Republicans are also grumbling, casting the tome as a last minute effort by Idaho’s far right to sway the May 15 primary election vote. Frankly, it was so poorly done that no one should be that worked up.
Inside are endorsements of a wide array of hyper-conservative candidates (Raul Labrador for governor, Janice McGeachin for lieutenant governor, and a host of legislative candidates all over the state). Also included are “articles” belittling this year’s tax cut, pushing a capital gains tax cut and an unveiling of the lurking evil of urban redevelopment.
Much of the content is from Gem State Patriot News, a wacky, hard right website. A perusal of its Facebook page reveals: 1) A claim that ISIS was behind last year’s horrific one man shooting in Las Vegas, 2) a video featuring radical Ammon Bundy (the guy behind the Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation, 3) roughly 40 million photos of Russ Fulcher and Raul Labrador (I pity both of them) and 4) an article arguing that STEM education will lead to the evil of . . . drip irrigation systems.
Two Treasure Valley residents, political consultant Lou Esposito and Meridian resident Patrick Malloy, claim credit and promise to print another edition every future election and before or after every future legislative session.
Of course the lurking question is who funded this substantial expenditure? Mr. Esposito and Mr. Malloy assert they don’t have to disclose that, claiming The Idahoan is an exempted newspaper rather than a expenditure to influence votes. Clearly The Idahoan is in the form of a newspaper but its primary purpose is unequivocally designed to manipulate the May 15 primary election. I suspect that the secretary of state will push for full disclosure of its contributors but that likely won’t occur for a while.
Still, there is a series of clues that seem to point to at least one likely financial source.
All through the publication are ads featuring a series of Idaho conservative groups. All are tied to one man, Idaho Falls businessman Doyle Beck. One is the Idaho Business Alliance, which was formed by Beck (and others) in 2013 to oppose Idaho’s health care exchange. It has been pretty quiet since then, until it appeared in The Idahoan. Another is Free Enterprise PAC, an entity that has been on the sidelines since 2014 (but Beck was a major contributor that year). The Idaho Freedom Foundation is prominent. Beck has been a significant funder of its political arm, Idaho Freedom Action. Lastly, the pro-life group Idaho Chooses Life has an ad. In 2016, Beck was a significant donor towards that group’s political efforts.
If Beck provided a chunk of the funding, his involvement should calm down those who are up-in-arms. He has quite the track record of often spectacular misfires. He tried to take out Gov. Butch Otter in 2014 and lost. That same year he tried to pick a host of statewide officeholders and lost every one except, arguably, one race. Last year in Bonneville County he tried to defeat the creation of the College of Eastern Idaho (which required 71% of the vote), and failed miserably, despite spending a small fortune, in a somewhat farcical effort to take out Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper.
But, in the grand scheme of things, will this massive “newspaper” really matter? I don’t think so. I believe few Idahoans are irresistibly drawn to sit down and spend an hour leafing through 48 pages of pretty goofy nonsense. And, not many votes will be swayed by voting recommendations buried in an unsolicited pile of newsprint.