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Two PACs spending on negative ads in Ada County prior to November election

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Two different political action committees have entered the fray in Ada County’s 2022 local elections, sending out negative ads in the hopes of swaying voters in the final weeks of the race. 

Safer Streets and Families, a PAC funded by local developers and LLCs with unclear ownership, sent mailers supporting Miranda Gold for Ada County Highway District and later attacking her opponent, ACHD Commission President Mary May. On the other side, homebuilder-backed PAC Building Industry Group of Treasure Valley (BIG TV) is running negative ads on Facebook against ACHD Commissioner Kent Goldthorpe, Gold and Stan Ridgeway in his bid for Ada County Commissioner

According to Idaho law, PACs are not allowed to coordinate with candidates and make their spending, fundraising and advertising decisions independently from candidates. 

BIG TV makes another appearance in Ada County races

The Building Industry Group of Treasure Valley has become a mainstay in local elections in recent years. 

This is the latest evolution of political spending from Tradewinds General Contracting Principal Steve Martinez, Avimor developer Dan Richter and others powering attack ads against former Democrat Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo and Boise City Council Member Lisa Sánchez since 2020. The group didn’t run any ads in the 2022 primary election but is now heavily promoting a series of attack ads against Goldthorpe, Gold, and Ridgeway on Facebook. 

A screenshot from one of the ads running against Goldthorpe on BIG TV’s Facebook page

BIG TV recently settled with the Idaho Attorney General’s Office after the state investigated the group for spending campaign funds without filing the proper disclosures required under Idaho sunshine laws. The group had to pay $2,500 and backdate $60,000 worth of political contributions for 2021. The complaint came from Boise resident Tucker Anderson, who alleged the group used its nonprofit status to shield donors and then pay all of Conservative Citizens for Thoughtful Growth PAC’s expenses. 

This year, BIG TV is running its ads using its PAC instead of the Conservative Citizens for Thoughtful Growth name. The PAC reported the identity of some of its donors, like $25,000 from Avimor over the summer, $3,000 from House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, another $3,000 from Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian and $5,000 from the Building Contractors Association of SW Idaho. 

But, there are still thousands of dollars in donations to the group hidden from the public. The group shielded some of these donations, like $10,000 in mid-October, by having the nonprofit arm of BIG TV donate it to the PAC. Donors to 501(c)(3) organizations do not have to disclose their donors. 

The ads the group running include posts saying “You can’t trust Kent” and a video accusing him of supporting the “crazy woke concept” of “high-density cluster zoning,” which the video says will “destroy Ada County with more crime, more congestion, and more and more taxes.” ACHD is not a land use agency and does not vote on zoning decisions, only on the construction of roads, bike lanes, and sidewalks. 

Goldthorpe is the lone Republican targeted by BIG TV. 

Facebook Ads against Gold show her holding a photoshopped “I <3 Bernie” sign and labeling her a “woke progressive” after her time on the Eagle City Council. Mailers with similar images were also sent to voters in the district. She was also the subject of a video from BIG TV similar to the one attacking Goldthorpe labeling her a “woke Bernie Sanders supporter” with a “radical agenda” she’ll force on the drivers of Ada County. The video also accuses her of supporting an 11% income tax, even though ACHD or Eagle City Council is not in any way connected to state tax rates.

The Ada County Republicans have also run Facebook ads against Gold, photoshopping her next to an image of Bernie Sanders and dubbing her a “Bernie Sanders Delegate.”

Gold denied BIG TV’s accusations about the tax hikes in an email to BoiseDev on Monday, following the initial publication of. thisstory.

“The claims made by BIGTV PAC in their mailers, ads, and videos are simply false,” Gold said. “During my time on council, I did not raise property taxes 22%. I have never advocated for an 11% state income tax. These are fabricated numbers and reckless disinformation ahead of an election to support the profit motives of this group.”

The anti-Ridgeway posts follow a similar pattern, labeling him a “woke liberal” who increased City of Eagle spending during his tenure as mayor. 

Anti-Mary May mailers

In September and October, Ada County voters received mailers from the Safer Streets and Families PAC trying to gin up support for Gold’s bid to unseat May. 

The PAC, which is linked to a downtown Boise PO Box, is run by Jim Edwards. His professional and political affiliations are unknown. It began fundraising at the beginning of September and took in donations from individuals, as well as $5,000 from developer Roundhouse and $2,000 from Harris Ranch developer Doug Fowler. It also brought in $5,000 from an LLC called Pearl Snap Partners, which has an address linked to a registered agent service for LLCs and whose ownership BoiseDev could not identify, as well as $12,500 from California-based Hull Family Trust. 

Mailers against May from the group sent in October ask “What is Mary May up to?” and link her to several headlines about ACHD, though she wasn’t connected to the events described in all of the stories. The items include a headline about ACHD’s demolition of Smoky Davis on State Street as part of a road project and a resulting lawsuit, but May was not elected to ACHD until after the dispute happened. 

The mailer also highlighted May’s vote for a new three-year contract with ACHD Executive Director Bruce Wong just prior to two outgoing board members leaving the commission at the tail end of 2020. The contract was referred to by critics and several media outlets as a “golden parachute” because it said if Wong was fired without cause, he would receive a year of pay from the agency plus benefits. 

Safer Streets and Families PAC mailer

Proponents of the contract at the time said it was standard for Wong to have a contract with the agency and current commissioners were in the best place to evaluate his performance, but Commissioners Jim Hansen and Kent Goldthorpe said it would hamstring future commissions and say that Wong hadn’t had a contract for the past three years. 

“This action today is with this body of commissioners as we are the ones who have given direction to Wong and we are the best ones to ascertain if that direction has been followed and met,” May said at the 2020 meeting before voting for the contract. “This is in no way meant to disenfranchise or ignore the fact that there will be one, maybe two, new commissioners in January.”

Another headline links May to rising property tax assessments, but the Idaho Statesman story it linked was about home values spiking, not any votes May or ACHD took. May was one of the commissioners who pushed to not take foregone taxes originally proposed by ACHD staff in 2021 and voted not to take any of the allowable 3% tax increase for this budget year. Plus, residential property tax increases are largely due to homes rising in value faster than commercial property statewide

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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