Ten days ago, when they were arguing for their donors secrecy, Debbie Field and John Foster painted themselves as champions of the little guy.
Said two of the founders of Education Voters of Idaho, in a guest opinion to Idaho newspapers: For too long, Idaho parents have been left on the sidelines of the political debate over education. ... The most important voices in this process are often lost or outright ignored.
On Wednesday afternoon Halloween, in a you-cant-make-it-up coincidence this all was revealed to be a cheap plastic mask. Under a court order, EVI finally told Idahoans who was really behind their campaign to keep Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the books.
Heres a partial list of these downtrodden and drowned-out little guys, and what they managed to part with:
Æ Joe Scott, the grandson of Joe Albertson and a major investor in the online education industry: $250,000.
Æ New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg: $200,000.
Æ The Republican Governors Public Policy Committee, a group that seldom sends surrogates to PTO bake sales in Grangeville or Gooding: $50,000.
Æ Hagadone Hospitality of Coeur dAlene, which had already shaken out the hotel mattresses for a $15,000 donation to Yes for Idaho Education: a matching $15,000.
Æ M3 Eagle, a Phoenix company pursuing a large planned community in the Eagle Foothills: $10,000.
Æ Intermountain Gas Co.: $10,000.
Æ Clear Springs Foods, a Buhl based trout farm: $10,000.
Æ The J.R. Simplot Co.: $5,000.
These big donors arent political neophytes. The same can be said for the folks who defended their secrecy. Field, a former state legislator, managed Gov. Butch Otters successful re-election campaign in 2010. Foster, a former Idaho Democratic Party executive director, was a campaign manager for former Rep. Walt Minnick.
In a letter Wednesday to Secretary of State Ben Ysursa the man who pushed to get the groups finances out of the shadows Field and Foster said, We intended to be a social welfare organization, not a political committee, and we want to fulfill the mission our donors support.
So is EVI a social welfare organization cleverly disguised as a political organization? If so, this group ought to get some kind of award for best costume.
Why did these folks and their donors engage in a three-week shell game? Why did they conceal their identities until Wednesday, six days before Idaho voters render their verdict on three landscape-changing education laws?
I have but one theory. And its perfect for Halloween.
They tried to convince you they are something they arent.
Education Voters of Idaho is no voice for parents. It is an advocate for big business and moneyed interests. That is the groups constitutional right, of course. With that right comes an obligation to be transparent. To be straight with the voters who with the three complicated Students Come First education laws already have enough to sort out.
Transparency in government is a beautiful thing, rich with subpoena power. It compels money to talk.
At 3 p.m. Wednesday, the witching hour struck. And when Education Voters of Idahos Sunshine reports finally saw daylight, the money spoke loud and clear.
THE LAPTOP FINE PRINT
When Otter and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna announced the states Students Come First laptop deal, they wanted you to take away this one number: $292.77.
That was the per-unit cost announced last week and, at first blush, it sounds like a bargain.
The fine print tells another story. The details were unearthed Tuesday by the Spokane Spokesman-Reviews Betsy Russell, who obtained a copy of the states contract with Hewlett-Packard under Idahos public records act.
First, you must keep in mind that this is an annual per-unit cost. The computers for high school students and teachers will be replaced on a four-year cycle, pushing the four-year per-unit cost to $1,171.08.
Second, this is a lease agreement, not a purchase. After four years and $1,171, these laptops go back to HP. While HP is required under warranty to replace defective equipment, the state is on the hook to replace lost, damaged or stolen computers.
The normally measured Randy Stapilus a Northwest political blogger and former Statesman editor promptly dubbed this the yagottabekiddin clause.
Tens of thousands of computers. Liability: Seemingly unlimited. Unbelievable.
Actually, I can believe it. This seems like a boilerplate rental relationship. With the ability to walk away from 4-year-old laptops comes certain liabilities. More surprising, and more significant to taxpayers, is the rising pricetag.
In 2011, Lunas office estimated this program would cost $70.8 million over the first five years including the devices and wireless access. Now, the five-year costs again, for laptops and wireless will approach $82.9 million.
Even that figure doesnt tell the whole story. The state is gradually rolling out this program, furnishing laptops to teachers first, and then incrementally to students, so the contract wont fully kick in until year four. In years six through eight, when the state is taking delivery of a total just north of 271,000 laptops, the contract will cost the state $79.4 million.
This deal will cost Idaho taxpayers at least $167.7 million over eight years and, as Bill Burns of the state Department of Administrations purchasing division told The Associated Press last week, HP came in as the low bidder.
But at the tail end of a costly, rancorous campaign, the details are just coming into focus.
Buyer (or renter) beware.
Kevin Richert: 377-6437, Twitter: @KevinRichert