Counsel: McDonald videos didn’t violate law

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SANDPOINT — The Kootenai County Prosecutor’s Office, representing Bonner County, contends Commissioner Dan McDonald did not run afoul of Idaho’s Public Integrity in Elections Act by filming campaign videos in his office and the board’s conference room.

Bill Harp, the county’s former director of information technology, alleged that McDonald violated the state elections law by using the office space and conference room as performance stages during his campaign in the 2018 election cycle. Harp further alleged that McDonald’s use of his official name tag and the “power and authority of the commissioner’s office” also ran contrary to the elections act.

McDonald, a Sunnyside Republican who represents District 3, faced former Ponderay Mayor Carol Kunzeman in the primary and former Sandpoint Councilman Steve Lockwood in the general election. McDonald edged Kunzeman to retain the GOP nomination. McDonald handily won re-election after amassing 11,363 votes compared to Lockwood’s 7,442 votes, a difference of 3,921 votes.

Darrin Murphey, a deputy prosecutor for Kootenai County, was asked to review the allegations raised by Harp on behalf of the county. Murphey concluded that Idaho Code does not prohibit public officials from speaking, campaigning or otherwise exercising their individual First Amendment rights for political purposes so long as public funds are not used to support the official’s campaigning.

Murphey noted that in nearly every campaign video or photo he can recall, incumbent elected sheriffs are wearing badges and uniforms.

Moreover, there was no showing McDonald utilized public funds to created the campaign videos, Murphey said.

“There is no evidence that any public funds were used to make Commissioner McDonald’s videos. As such, in my opinion, Commissioner McDonald’s use of his county office and the commissioners’ conference room as a backdrop for his campaign videos does not violate the Public Integrity in Elections Act,” Murphey said in a Dec. 5 letter to Deputy Prosecutor Scott Bauer, the board’s civil counsel.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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