Opponents of Superintendent Tom Luna’s 2011 education reforms reported raising through Sept. 30 more than twice as much as the reported effort of supporters of Propositions 1, 2 and 3.
With $1.06 million from the National Education Association and $280,000 from the Idaho Education Association, just $36,000 of the money raised for the Vote No on Proposition 1, 2, 3 campaign came from other sources.
That news prompted Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot to vow Thursday that he will boost his effort on behalf of propositions that limit collective bargaining, provide bonuses to about 80 percent of teachers and require online classes and laptops for every high school student. Opponents collected enough signatures to put repeal of the 2011 education laws on the Nov. 6 ballot.
“We knew they were spending a lot of money, we didn’t know how much,” VanderSloot said. “There’s no way we can match that, but we are going to enter the fight.”
VanderSloot is a prominent conservative Idaho political contributor and one of a handful of Mitt Romney supporters who have given $1 million or more.
Though he said he can’t discuss proprietary polling, VanderSloot said the Idaho measures are trailing 3 1/2 weeks before the election. “When somebody puts a million bucks to say ‘no,’ I think it’s pretty normal to fall behind.”
VanderSloot said the proponents’ financial situation has worsened because of a dispute between Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and a nonprofit group that reported raising $200,000 for broadcast ads to back the reforms. Ysursa says contributors names must be reported under Idaho’s sunshine law.
Education Voters of Idaho transfered $200,000 to an affiliate, Parents for Education Reform. John Foster, the nonprofit’s spokesman, says the group is exempt from the disclosure requirement because of its federal tax status. Until the dispute is resolved, Foster said, the group has suspended spending money.
Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst said a Thursday letter from the Idaho attorney general’s office seeks a legal explanation from the group. “We’re waiting for them to tell us why they think they shouldn’t have to disclose their contributions.”
‘PROUD TO DISCLOSE’
Meanwhile, VanderSloot said he’s stepping into the breach. Melaleuca already has spent more than $200,000 on behalf of the “yes” campaign, but VanderSloot wouldn’t say how much more he’s prepared to spend.
“The burden was not going to be on our shoulders, wasn’t supposed to be on our shoulders, shouldn’t be on our shoulders,” VanderSloot said. “But now with all these (Education Voters for Idaho) funds tied up, I’m just racking my brain to say, ‘Holy Smokes!’ We can’t let the unions in Washington, D.C., take control of our schools again.”
A leader of the opposition, Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, said his group is grateful to teachers across the country who contributed to fight laws opposed by Idaho teachers.
“We’re proud to disclose who’s supporting this campaign,” Cronin said. “The Luna Laws’ supporters appear to be ashamed, hiding in the shadows and using elaborate campaign finance schemes to fund their advertising anonymously. We’d like to know what they're hiding and why?”
VanderSloot said he hasn’t contributed any money to Education Voters for Idaho or other groups that assert exemption from disclosure. His contributions have come in the name of Melaleuca. The Idaho Falls-based company gave $110,000 to the Idaho Federation of Republican Women, mostly for radio ads. Another $50,000 went to YES for Idaho Education.
All told, three proponent groups have raised $501,000: $200,000 for Education Voters for Idaho; $165,000 for YES for Idaho Education; and $136,000 for the GOP women.
VanderSloot also is independently buying full-page newspaper ads that he says cost him $20,000 a week the last several weeks. He’s also going to pay for a four-page newspaper insert. That spending doesn’t have to be disclosed until seven days before the election.
Foster, of Education Voters for Idaho, wouldn’t say how much money the group has banked from unnamed donors pending a resolution of the dispute with Ysursa. “I will only say that we are pleased with donations toward this effort to promote education reform in Idaho,” Foster said.
VanderSloot said he’s proceeding as if that group and its money are out of the picture. “Those people all gave their money under the understanding they were not going to be disclosed as donors,” he said.
VanderSloot said he thought the union spending was unprecedented, but it is not. In 1986, unions spent $2.8 million in a failed effort to overturn Idaho’s right to work law. Proponents spent less than half that, $1.2 million, but won with 54 percent of the vote.
Gov. Butch Otter, whose campaign manager is running Parents for Education Reform, said in a statement Thursday that he trusts the people of Idaho “to do the right thing and once again reject union scare tactics from these checkbook bullies.”
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics