Capitol & State

Rep. Morse says North Idaho pastors violated IRS rules in his primary defeat

Republican Rep. Ed Morse says he will file a complaint with the IRS urging an investigation of a campaign flier produced by the Kootenai Family Council PAC and distributed by pastors the weekend before the GOP primary.

Morse, who unseated scandal-plagued Rep. Phil Hart in 2012, lost by a wide margin to Eric Redman, 61 percent to 39 percent, in the May 20 race.

Fliers produced by the PAC were distributed by pastors in the Kootenai County Ministerial Association, the Coeur d'Alene Press reports. Morse said the group has almost 30 member churches.

The fliers listed all Kootenai County GOP candidates for the Legislature and their positions on two issues: Gov. Butch Otter's Your Health Idaho health insurance exchange and Common Core education standards. For incumbents, the flier included the "Freedom Index," a scoring of voting records produced by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, Otter's strongest opponent on the exchange.

"This was a thumb on the scale by local churches," Morse said in Jeff Selle's story in Sunday's Press.

Morse, of Hayden, voted for the exchange bill. He cited IRS rules barring tax exempt nonprofit groups from participation in elections. "I don't want this to look like sour grapes, but what they did was just wrong," Morse said.

According to the Press, soon-to-be lawmaker Redman is a member of the board of Reach for America, a home school advocacy group. Reach for America's founder is Gary Brown, political treasurer of the Kootenai Family Council PAC. Redman, of Athol, also serves on "two other Christian boards associated with Brown and his organization," according to the Press.

Redman, who is assured election in November as the only candidate on the ballot, did not return phone calls from the Press, Selle reported.

The PAC's Sunshine reports shows spending $305 at Staples for campaign literature and filed a termination report June 2.

According to the Press, Brown did not return phone messages and the PAC's lone contributor, Robert Schillingstad, hung up when asked about the flier.

But Pastor Paul Van Noy of Candlelight Fellowship Church said he distributed the fliers as an individual. "Pastors are allowed to have opinions," Van Noy told the Press. "I am allowed to email those opinions to my friends and my church congregation."

Van Noy distributed an electronic version of the flier on the day before the election, calling it a "voter's guide" and encouraging recipients to vote.

Coeur d'Alene Church of the Nazarene Pastor Ron Hunter told the Press he distributed the fliers "but we did not endorse anyone."