Following the dollars — or not — in Idaho Falls bond campaign

After Idaho Falls voters turned down a $110 million school bond issue last week, Bryan Clark of the Post Register tried to peel back the curtain on the heated campaign.

He couldn’t learn much.

Bond issue supporters provided a list of donors — but no dollar figures. Opponents wouldn’t name names, saying they assured donors their anonymity would be protected.

Like it or not, that’s how the law works.

Idaho’s Sunshine Law doesn’t cover school bond issues. That might make it easier for groups to raise money — but it makes it all but impossible for journalists or interested voters to follow the dollars.

And we’ve seen these loopholes in action before. In 2016, when four of West Ada’s five trustees faced recall elections, rumors swirled about “dark money” backing the recall efforts. It was impossible to discern rumor from reality, since trustee recall elections are also exempt from the Sunshine Law.

(Ironically enough, trustee candidates in larger school districts are required to report contributions, under a 2015 law.)

The campaign finance loophole has drawn scrutiny from legislators of both parties. Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, have proposed bills to bring school tax measures and recall elections under the Sunshine Law.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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