Opposition to Greater Idaho violated state law

Mailers opposed to Greater Idaho ballot measure 32-007 have been arriving in Wallowa County mailboxes without specifying who is paying for them. Oregon law requires that any spending on a campaign be reported online to the Secretary of State so that it may be instantly published for the public on the State’s website. Yet the State’s website shows only spending in favor of the measure. It shows that a group has registered in favor of the measure, but none has registered in opposition. The Greater Idaho movement filed a complaint with the state on May 5, 2023.

This article may be edited over time as new facts come to light. This is version 7, 11:51am PT May 5, 2023, which adds, that a complaint was filed. Version 4, 5:20 am 5/2/2023, corrected our comments about “Rural Oregonians for Oregon.”

During campaign season, Oregon law requires any spending in favor or opposed to an election campaign to be reported within 7 days of the date that the agreement with the vendor is first made. Yet the purchasers of these mailers (and postage) are still not shown on the website. The Greater Idaho movement in Wallowa County received opposition postcards in their mailboxes with a Portland postmark dated April 18. Even if a mailer is self-printed, it must still be reported, along with the postage purchase.

It has been well known for many years that states have campaign finance law, so it is unclear why it was ignored entirely in this case.

Incredibly, the focus of the opposition’s more recent mailer (from Boise) is questioning who is pushing the Greater Idaho movement, even though the opposition failed to abide by legally required transparency law, and didn’t even say on any of its mailers who paid for it or who it was from, with no return mail address. The Greater Idaho movement abides by all of these. The first mailers said they were from “Rural Oregonians for Oregon,” but there is no way to contact them or to know who this refers to.

Although the latest mailer does link to a website, the owner of the domain has concealed his identity by going through the extra step of registering the Google domain name through Privacy Inc, rather than directly, so that he can be known as Privacy Inc. Customer 7151571251 rather than by his true name.

Indeed, the only identifying information on any of the mailers, besides first names, is on the last mailer (the one that focuses on far-right characters): Boise USPS pre-sort permit number 220. This is the account of a commercial printer, whose client was a graphic artist. The graphic artist informed us that her client is Ben Unger, a former Democratic state legislator for the Portland area. In a phone call this morning, Ben Unger acknowledged that he was the source of the mailing and stated that he has no intention of reporting his expenditures to the state, then abruptly hung up.

An image from the YouTube ad that matches the content of Ben Unger’s mailer. Captured April 30, but the ad was seen early the previous week too.

A poster for an upcoming demonstration says the demonstration will be held by “Rural Oregonians for Oregon,” but does not explain who that is. Opposition printed literature was seen at a designated table at the Election Forum April 30 and was seen distributed in Wallowa Hospital, but no printing costs have been reported.

The identity of the group paying for the ads running on Pluto TV in Wallowa County is not a mystery. The ads say they’re paid for by a Portland leftist group called Western States Strategies, the political arm of Western States Center. Yet these ads are not acknowledged on the state’s campaign finance website either. In fact the group has not reported any income or expenditures since it registered 14 months ago, and it has not registered in opposition to the Wallowa County ballot measure as required. The content of the ad on Pluto TV matches exactly the content of the first mailers to arrive, which were attributed to “Rural Oregonians for Oregon.” the white postcards postmarked April 18.

The slogan on the Pluto TV ad “Can’t Afford Idaho” matches the name of the website on the last mailers and YouTube ads, which try to smear Greater Idaho by pointing out that fringe right-wing groups like secession. For this reason, it’s possible that Western States Strategies is the organization behind all of the mailers and video ads, if it is working with Ben Unger, even though the group’s YouTube channel has not made any ad public. It is especially striking that such a seasoned group, that has been registered with the state of Oregon’s campaign finance for more than a year, would not comply with the law.

A review of Western States Strategies’ website shows that it seems to see its role as whipping up fear about the weakest and least popular fringes of the right-wing: white nationalists. The group pays $80k salaries for people with 1-6 years experience to be social justice warriors. It’s unclear who would want to fund salaries for this kind of work. The organization acknowledges it employs at least six “key staff” and thirteen “fellows.”

The purpose of campaign finance law is to provide transparency on whether an advertiser is local and what his allegiances are (eg. urban vs. local), and to provide accountability. When an outsider group wants to influence someone else’s election in a distant location, a common tactic is to avoid advertising until the end of the campaign so that voters will vote before they find out where the ads are not coming from. In this case, it looks like Western States Strategies is so well funded that it can afford to pay the fines associated with flouting this law. Because ballots arrived last week, it’s likely that a third of voters have already voted without knowing that the ads their viewing are hardly from “Rural Oregonians…” as claimed but rather from Portlanders.

The leader of the Greater Idaho movement, Mike McCarter, said:

The organization’s senior advisor and treasurer, Eric K. Ward, was quoted by a newspaper in June 2021 smearing the Greater Idaho movement as racist. Yet Eric Ward has never produced any reason to believe this. He doesn’t seem to understand that baseless accusations such as this alienate people. Yet their mission is “Be guided by our shared values of equity, inclusion, and multiracial democracy, and our belief that every Oregonian should live free from bigotry and fear.” Do eastern Oregonians feel included when called slurs like “racist”? What kind of fear and bigotry does it take to “other” people like this – to tell the newspaper’s audience that our voice should be ignored and discarded because he decided to call us an epithet. Calling us racist seems to be an attempt to associate a legitimate, grass-roots movement of rural Oregonians with Hollywood’s stereotypes of low-class, ignorant, evil, ugly, dirty Southerners. His words mark anyone with a Greater Idaho sign or a Greater Idaho hat as targets for violent antifa members.

The population of Wallowa County is so small, and campaigns so cheap, that professionals might think that following the law is not worth the time because the fines will be so tiny even if their actions are found out. McCarter added “campaign finance law was put in place to ensure that all counties can have fair elections, not just large counties.”

The movement responded to the content of the opposition mailers at greateridaho.org https://www.greateridaho.org/response-to-opposition-mailers-in-wallowa-county/

Wallowa County residents are requested not to throw away opposition mailers because they can be used as evidence. Please contact the Greater Idaho movement if you received something or viewed a video ad not mentioned in the response above, so that the evidence can be collected if needed.

A collage of political ads and mailers opposed to the Wallowa County Greater Idaho ballot measure
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