BOISE, Idaho — This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press.
A very odd legislative newsletter recently went out from Rep. Heather Scott, accusing Rep. Jon Weber of sending his legislative newsletter to her email subscriber list, which she dubbed “very disturbing and a serious breach of privacy.”
Scott, R-Blanchard, advised her newsletter subscribers, “As a result, I will no longer be using this government system to send my email updates.” She also directed them to unsubscribe from Weber’s newsletter and contact him to demand an apology.
The only problem: Weber, R-Rexburg, had no idea what she was talking about. He said he teamed up with fellow District 34 lawmaker Sen. Doug Ricks to send out an email newsletter, as the two did last year, and they used the Senate GOP Caucus’ service to send it out through the state system.
The Senate GOP Caucus has a new contractor helping its members with content for their newsletters this year, according to Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, along with some of their House counterparts who are partnering with them.
Said Winder, “I don’t understand why she’s saying that. … They’re using a government system paid by the taxpayers to send out information.”
He added, "If anybody doesn’t want to be on there they can unsubscribe."
Weber said he and Ricks just sent out their newsletter through the state system. “It wasn’t maliciously done,” he said.
Scott represents District 1, the northernmost district in the state that abuts the Canadian border. Weber’s District 34 is at the opposite end of the state in eastern Idaho, nearly at the border with Wyoming. “So the question is, why would I intentionally send my newsletter to her district?” Weber said. “It absolutely serves no purpose whatsoever.” He said, “There’s a flaw in the system, obviously.”
Scott’s newsletter message, sent out with the subject line, “ALERT! PRIVACY BREACH of YOUR DATA PLEASE READ!!!!” said, “Apparently, Jon Weber, or an assistant in charge of his newsletter, has gained access to MY ENTIRE legislative email subscriber list, which is why you may have received his email update today. This is very disturbing and a serious breach of privacy. I will be investigating this unethical action, but like so many other establishment tactics in the swamp, I am not surprised. After all, it is an election year.”
“As a result, I will no longer be using this government system to send my email updates. Your privacy is important to me.”
Anyone may subscribe to any lawmaker’s newsletter by clicking a link on the Legislature’s website; you just click “Subscribe to mailing list” next to the member’s name.
Weber’s and Ricks’ newsletter touted the recent House passage of the $600 million income-tax cut bill, HB 436, which Gov. Brad Little signed into law on Friday; along with other legislative news. It included specific updates, with photos, that were identical to those sent out by dozens of other GOP lawmakers in their weekly newsletters.
Weber said, “Let’s be honest. We have got, in the Legislature, far heavier, weightier matters of business for the people of Idaho than trying to hack into someone’s email addresses. … It’s sad that we have to waste time on this.”
That wasn’t the end of the matter, however. Late last week, the Senate Republican Caucus sent out a news release blasting Scott. Her accusations against Weber are "patently false and dishonest," the release said, "and Idahoans deserve better."
“At no time was Representative Scott’s distribution list available to any other member," the release said. "The accounts and distribution lists for each member are password protected and available only to the member of the district.”
The release explained that the email lists for each legislative seat’s newsletter are handed down from one lawmaker to the next for the same seat. “In this case, Representative Jon Weber inherited a distribution list for Seat 34A that had previously been held by Representative Ron Nate (R-Rexburg), a longtime political ally of Scott’s,” it said. That’s how subscribers to Scott’s newsletter ended up getting Weber’s.
I contacted Scott to see if she wanted to respond, and she emailed back, “Here is my response: ‘A false witness will not go unpunished, and whoever pours out lies will not go free. Proverbs 19:5.’”
To add another piece to this quagmire, Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, sent out a newsletter last week that said, “There has been a major screw-up on newsletter delivery.”
“First, I write my own newsletter, while most legislators use someone else to write their newsletters,” Crabtree wrote. “You will know mine because the logo at the top has my picture with a red, white and black scheme. I send it from my personal mailing list and is paid for by me. If it has a blue and white based logo at the top, it is from the government mailing list and paid for by the government. This week, some of you got a newsletter from me that I did not write. Look for my red, white and black logo…that’s mine!”
Sure enough, a newsletter had gone out saying it was from Crabtree that was identical to all the other GOP legislative newsletters. The same week, Crabtree’s own, personally written newsletter went out, covering different topics.
“The caucus hired someone to do the newsletters; I just do my own,” he said. “They sent it to the same mailing list.”
“I want to personalize my own,” he said. “The caucus ones are great for those who want to do it that way.” But he said of his constituents, “They elect me and they want to know how I think. It’s an effort to connect with people on a weekly basis.”
Crabtree said the other newsletter under his name was a surprise, but said, “I think we’ve got it cleared up.”
Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, said, “What our contractor’s doing is they’re helping us do a generic newsletter; that’s what we’re paying them for. … And then if a senator or a representative wants to add a personal note to the news, they do, and they put that with the generic newsletter, then they send it out on GovDelivery.”
Legislative Services Director Terri Kondeff said, “GovDelivery is available for all 105 members. But as far as how the newsletters are written, that is an individual legislator’s decision.”
This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more on IdahoPress.com.
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