Elections

Here's who's behind that printed voter guide in your mailbox this week

A copy of "The Idahoan" from May 2018.
A copy of "The Idahoan" from May 2018. rbrown@idahostatesman.com

The Idaho Democratic Party is calling for an investigation into a conservative pamphlet mailed statewide to voters.

The 48-page publication, called “The Idahoan,” states it is a “newspaper.” It contains a guide to candidates in the May 15 primaries, endorsements and several conservative opinion commentaries.

The party asked Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney to have his office investigate the “legal legitimacy of this political mailer,” states a May 4 letter from party officials to Denney.

“The party “believes that certain conservative political organizations are funding the Idahoan and are attempting to circumnavigate campaign and election laws by improperly classifying The Idahoan as a newspaper,” states the letter.

The party is also asking Denney to recuse himself from any investigation into the publication because of his ties to its publisher.

Earlier reporting continues below:

A past Meridian political candidate and a longtime Republican political consultant are the pair behind a self-identified "conservative" guide to Idaho's primaries, showing up this week in mailboxes across the state.

The Idahoan proclaims it is "written by conservatives" with "information for everyone" regarding candidates in the May 15 election. That information is largely endorsements, brief candidate profiles and a variety of op-eds from sources like Idaho Chooses Life, Gem State Patriot and the Idaho Republican Party.

The front page lists the publisher and editor as Patrick Malloy and Lou Esposito, respectively.

"The publication is very straightforward and stands for itself," Malloy told the Statesman on Thursday.

Malloy declined to answer any further questions about who funded the publication and paid for its delivery. The Statesman also could not confirm how far across the state it was distributed. People online have reported receiving it at homes across southern Idaho, and the publication contains information on races across all of Idaho's 35 legislative districts.

Malloy is a previous unsuccessful candidate for the Idaho House and for a Meridian City Council seat. He filled in for former Sen. Shirley McKague, R-Meridian, for part of the 2012 legislative session when McKague took time off to care for a family member.

Esposito is a well-known Republican political consultant. He was a member of Idaho's 2011 redistricting commission, and in 2013 was involved in efforts to oppose creating Idaho's state-run health insurance exchange.

In 2012, Esposito operated several political action committees that attempted to unseat incumbent Republican lawmakers in the spring primary. That effort made headlines when campaign finance reports revealed that two members of House leadership contributed to the PACs — a factor in former Speaker Lawerence Denney later losing his position.

A front-page note from Malloy and Esposito states they plan to offer their guide "prior to each election cycle."

"Our goal is to turn-out as many people as possible to vote — armed with information — regardless of political party," Esposito writes in an explanation of the group's endorsements.

The publication also includes advertisements for groups like the Idaho Freedom Foundation, Idaho Chooses Life and Kevin Miller's KIDO talk radio show. But it's not clear that all the ads are paid: IFF founder Wayne Hoffman, for example, said Thursday he gave no money to The Idahoan.

Of note is how Esposito approaches his audience. To conservatives, he writes: "This publication is for you. Our hope is to introduce you to groups you may not be aware of, and need your support to continue the work they are doing."

To Republicans, he encourages continued internal debate about what the party should be. And to Democrats, he states: "We have mailed this to you in hopes of expanding the public policy debate, so that we can have a reasoned and civil dialogue as we go about the process of governing."

A fair amount of online reaction this week has focused on typos and errors, including listing candidates under the wrong political party.

But Kevin Richert at Idaho Education News had this to say Thursday: "If nothing else, the newsletter and its endorsements underscore the tension between some conservatives and legislative leadership. If that doesn’t play out at the polls on May 15, it might still play out in the in-house legislative leadership elections before the 2019 session."

Ruth Brown: 208-377-6207, @ruthbrownnews
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