In this March 2021 file photo, the Idaho State Capitol building’s grounds feature a statue of President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln signed a bill in 1863 that created the original Idaho Territory. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
The Idaho Republican Party and its chairman, Tom Luna, have filed suit against one of its county central committees, alleging the committee’s “illegal conduct” in favoring one candidate over another will cause irreparable harm.
The state party and Luna have asked the Fourth District Court in Ada County to temporarily stop the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee and its leadership from “continuing their unlawful activities with respect to the Republican primary elections” scheduled for Tuesday.
The motion for a temporary restraining order and/or preliminary injunction is a legal maneuver that would stop the central committee’s alleged activities, if the court approves it.
The state party “will suffer irreparable harm if the (central committee’s) illegal conduct alters the outcome of the May 17 primary elections,” the lawsuit says.
In the motion, the Idaho Republican Party and Luna claim that the Bonneville County GOP endorsed candidates “in violation of its bylaws” — and that those bylaws are essentially a contract.
The county central committee also made direct cash contributions to Republican candidates in contested primary races in 2021 and 2022, “then publicized these endorsements through direct mail, social media, and other communications,” the motion says.
The committee has endorsed candidates for U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the Idaho Legislature and statewide races, according to the state party’s motion.
The bylaws of the central committee “unambiguously require it to remain neutral in Republican-party primaries,” saying it must not take a position in favor of any candidate and authorizes it to “work to secure the election of all duly nominated Republican candidates,” according to the state GOP’s motion.
The county central committee issued a statement on Facebook Wednesday, arguing that it follows party rules and takes “our responsibility to inform voters seriously. Any accusation to the contrary is false.”
The Bonneville County Republican party “stands behind the hard work of our volunteers, our candidate recommendations, and the publications that we have sent out,” the statement said.
“Voters won’t get a straight story from liberals in the media, and they won’t get a straight story from the mountains of biased campaign literature either,” it said. “If you want to know who the best conservative Republican candidates are, your best source is the party itself.”
The motion filed Thursday by the state party says that the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee didn’t change its bylaws in a way that gives it the authority to endorse candidates. The state party’s lawsuit also alleges that the central committee doesn’t have the ability to retroactively give itself the power to endorse candidates, and the state party hasn’t granted it those powers.
Bonneville County Republican Central Committee chairman Mark Fuller told the Sun on Thursday evening that he hadn’t yet seen the lawsuit. He asked to be provided a copy and declined to comment until he saw it.
“The consequences of the BCRCC action not only put the BCRCC at legal risk but also the Idaho Republican Party,” Luna said in a press release issued Thursday. “One of my responsibilities as Chairman of the Idaho Republican Party is to defend the party and its brand, and I intend to do just that. Either the Republican Party is the party of law and order or we’re not.”
No hearings have yet been scheduled in the case.
In January, the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee made an unsuccessful effort to push for a rules change that would have required candidates seeking legislative, statewide or county offices to receive the endorsement of the Republican central committee before appearing on primary election ballots, the Sun previously reported.
One major piece of the fight is an “Official Republican Party Sample Ballot” that the county party distributed with names of select GOP candidates.
Luna told EastIdahoNews.com this month that the flyers were “intentionally designed to deceive voters into believing that the Idaho Republican Party has endorsed the candidates listed,” the news outlet reported.
Fuller defended the flyers, telling EastIdahoNews.com they were labeled with the local party’s logo, name, website and phone number. “Anybody who can read can tell who put this out,” he told the news outlet. Fuller told EastIdahoNews.com that the local party spent many hours interviewing candidates about their positions to determine “whether or not we should recommend you” for office.
The central committee also made campaign contributions to a handful of candidates, according to EastIdahoNews.com reporting. They included Reps. Ron Nate, Priscilla Giddings, Dorothy Moon and Barbara Ehardt, who are running for various offices; Raúl Labrador, who is running for Idaho Attorney General; and Douglas Toomer, running for District 35 in the Idaho Senate.
Editor’s note: BCRCC Chairman Mark Fuller’s name has been corrected.
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