The Bonneville County Elections Office is investigating Idaho Falls City Council election material distributed to neighborhoods that support the three city council challengers.

An unknown party has been distributing door hangers in some Idaho Falls neighborhoods that contain flyers with promotional material for the three challengers, Rob Thompson, Sandra Hokanson and Karie Caldwell. The door hangers do not disclose who paid for the material or who distributed it, which is a violation of Idaho Election Sunshine Laws.

“So far we have not been able to track down those responsible for it,” said Bonneville County Elections Supervisor Brenda Prudent. “I hope that whoever is doing it will come forward so we can inform them of the laws and take care of it because it is reflecting adversely on all parties involved.”

Prudent said all the candidates have informed her that none of them are responsible for the door hangers.

Idaho law says “Whenever any person makes an expenditure for the purpose of financing communications expressly advocating the election, approval or defeat of a candidate, measure or person standing for election to the position of precinct committeeman through any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, outdoor advertising facility, direct mailing or any other type of general public political advertising, the person responsible for such communication shall be clearly indicated on such communication.”

One side of the flyers claim incumbents Jim Francis, Jim Freeman and Lisa Burtenshaw support a “leftist agenda” and calls for them to be removed from office on the Nov. 2 election. The flyers say incumbent city council members support lockdowns, mask and vaccine requirements, and transgender restroom access, among other examples.

The flip side of the flyers calls for the “conservative” challengers to be voted in because of their support for “limited government.” The flyers say the challengers are anti-mandate, oppose over-regulation and support “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” among other examples.

Francis said the claims made by the flyers about the incumbents were not accurate and deliberately mislead voters. He said the flyers were similar to actions that have occurred in undemocratic countries he’s studied as a history teacher in spreading fear and dividing communities.

“When people are very deliberately making up lies to split the community, we’re going in the opposite direction of what’s useful,” Francis said. “It’s dangerous to run politics by fear.”

Francis said it was irresponsible to pit the incumbents and challengers against each other in groups.

“That is not the way the elections run,” Francis said. “There are three different elections — each of us has an opponent and to divide it up that way misleads the citizens of the community.”

Francis called for Thompson, his opponent, to publicly denounce the claims.

“This is part of taking responsibility,” Francis said. “If you make a mistake or something is said in your name and you’re not responsible for it, it’s necessary to say ‘I’m going to speak to the public and say that’s not my message, that’s not what I believe.’”

Thompson said he wasn’t sure who was distributing the door hangers and he has disclosed any campaign material he is paying for. He said he felt the information about the candidates distracted from the platform he’s running on.

“They probably feel that they’re well-intentioned but it just allows the other side to weaponize and distract from the message that I want to get across,” Thompson said.

Francis said the flyers also contained statements about the incumbents that none of them have brought up during their campaigns or events that they’ve spoken at.

Thompson said while the messaging was inflammatory toward the incumbents, he did believe some of it was true because city council members did issue a misdemeanor violation in regard to Eastern Idaho Public Health’s gathering mandate that was issued in 2020. The misdemeanor carried up to $300 in fines and up to six months in jail. No misdemeanor citations were ever issued for violating the mandate. Council members did consider a city mask mandate in July 2020 but ultimately decided to pass on taking any action to recommend or require mask use in public places.

Francis addressed this point and said City Council members made a decision to enforce the mandate if it was necessary. One example he mentioned was businesses calling law enforcement if someone was causing an issue on their property about masking or gathering.

“We accepted responsibility to support the health department,” Francis said.

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