Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, wins the Bill of the Week Award with his proposal that should be so obvious, you wouldn’t think it would take a law. Monks’ plan would simply prevent government from using your money to convince you to vote for your taxes to go up.
Monks’ bill tackles a problem that has been compounding in recent years. That problem is: Money you thought was being spent to educate children, or hire cops to catch the bad guys, was instead used to sway elections. Over the years, the state Supreme Court and the state attorney general have cautioned government officials to avoid explicitly urging residents to vote for or against a proposal. But that hasn’t stopped increasingly sophisticated electioneering efforts and marketing campaigns aimed at tipping the scales to achieve a desired outcome at the ballot box.
The latest example comes from the Kuna School District, which has created slick videos (apparently voiced by schoolchildren, no less) and brochures that extol the virtues of a proposed $40 million bond and a separate $2.5 million tax levy on the ballot. A couple of months ago, the Boise School District provided exclusive speaking time before at least two children’s Christmas concerts to supporters who pitched a $172 million bond proposal. Both the Kuna and Boise bond elections are in March.
Before that, Fruitland voters faced a question of whether to finance a $6.5 million city hall project. The city decided to finagle more support by distributing flyers and door hangers, which insisted that the town’s growth meant the city government’s headquarters needed to grow, too. That bond got a majority vote but not the supermajority Idaho law requires.
Last fall, the College of Western Idaho (CWI) allocated almost $400,000 to market its bond proposal. Also, the city of Meridian used government employee time and materials to promote the CWI bond, a library district bond and a recreation district bond.
Monks wants it to stop. Under his proposal, the government would still be allowed to say when and where an election is to be held, and it can provide basic details about a proposed bond or levy, but that would be all. Monks also wants government officials to be prohibited from conducting mass communication campaigns in the days leading up to an election, lest those communications be used to sway the outcome, as was attempted by CWI, which distributed a glossy mailer to voters in Ada and Canyon counties talking itself up but not specifically mentioning the election that was taking place in just a matter of days.
No doubt some government officials will wail and cry and pout. They’ll claim Monks’ bill is too restrictive. But the current environment is too permissive. We live in a state where, when it comes to passing a bond or levy increase, virtually anything goes, and it does. Our schools, city halls, community colleges and other publicly-funded enterprises double as campaign headquarters with money and resources that crush our ability to counter the political push.
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There’s something to be said about the straightforwardness and honesty of legislation that says an ethical government is one that does not exploit taxpayers in order to get its way at the ballot box.
Written by Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation.