With just a week to go in Idahos most dramatic campaign of 2012, 4th District Judge Mike Wetherell moved to end the mystery surrounding a new interest group that wants to keep its donor list secret.
Education Voters of Idaho fought to suppress who gave $200,350 spent to convince voters to approve Superintendent Tom Lunas education reforms in Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on Tuesdays ballot.
Though he wouldnt fit in anyones bicycle basket, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is playing Toto, grabbing the screen shrouding the donors and yanking. Wetherell granted Ysursas motion for disclosure less than three hours after hearing oral arguments Monday.
Voters are entitled to know who is standing behind the curtain, Wetherell wrote.
The judge said failure to identify the donors before the election would permit the law to be violated with impugnity and would result in irreparable harm to the voters of Idaho whose rights under the Sunshine Initiative the secretary of state is charged with protecting.
Wetherells order is a full-throated defense of campaign finance disclosure. He cited two landmark cases, 1976 Buckley v. Valeo and 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
The voters have a right to the most full, most accurate information they can get in spite of the manyobstacles placed in their way by those who would prefer to hide behind catchy, vague names, Wetherell wrote.
He ordered EVI to immediately cease raising and spending money and to file sunshine reports by 3 p.m. Wednesday, covering the period through Oct. 21.
EVIs lawyer, Christ Troupis, played the affable guard at the Gates of Oz, telling Wetherell that the names should stay secret because the givers didnt intend the money as a political contribution.
The money was solicited by lobbyists working for the Luna camp, John Foster and Kate Haas. They helped form EVI on Aug. 16, with directors including Gov. Butch Otters campaign manager and a lobbyist whose firm represents the for-profit education industry.
Givers expected the money to be used for the general purpose of education reform, argued Troupis. No contributor to EVI ever designated that a contribution was to be used in support or opposition to any ballot measure.
Troupis asked Wetherell to conduct a trial rather than grant Ysursas call for disclosure. He also said he planned to appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court if EVI didnt prevail.
Troupis drew Wetherell as a judge last week after using his peremptory disqualification of Judge Deborah Bail. Troupis said he doesnt have anything against Bail, though his clients wanted her replaced.
I wanted an extra day or two and, unfortunately, the only way I could get it was getting us a new judge, Troupis said. Of Wetherell, he said, Hes a good judge. All I want is a fair hearing. They are difficult issues.
Wetherell, 67, is well-grounded in campaign law. Both his parents served in the Idaho Senate; he was Idaho Democratic Party chairman in the early 1990s; and he won five four-year terms on the Boise City Council.
Hes also an advocate of transparency. It was Wetherell who first questioned former Boise Mayor Brent Coles junket to New York City, an inquiry that helped spur Coles to resign in 2003, the same year Wetherell became a judge.
At Wednesdays hearing, Wetherell was clearly prepared, citing Buckley and Citizens United to Troupis and Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane.
As Troupis argued against disclosure, Wetherell interrupted and reminded him where the law came from Idaho citizens who enacted it after Watergate.
Idaho adopted a Sunshine Law, Wetherell said. And maybe it was because a bunch of unsophisticated voters, rather than legislators, enacted that law. But it specifically says: We want to know where all the money is coming from.
Unless Wetherell badly misread the law, look for the Supreme Court to affirm his order and let voters see whos pulling the levers before Election Day.
© 2012 Idaho Statesman
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics