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Judge rules for Idaho Republican Party in suit over Bonneville County GOP endorsements

Judge Jason Scott ruled in favor of the Idaho Republican Party on Friday, after the party accused the BCRCC of violating election laws and party rules.

BOISE, Idaho — Judge Jason Scott ruled in favor of the Idaho Republican party on Friday, after the party accused the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee of violating election laws and party rules by distributing flyers listing endorsements of the "official Republican Party."

The Idaho GOP said the flyer was deceiving and against the party's policy of staying neutral in primary races.

Attorneys working on behalf of the Idaho Republican Party and its chairman, Tom Luna, filed a complaint Thursday in Fourth District Court. 

The judge's order prevents the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee (BCRCC) from endorsing Republican candidates in contested Republican primaries, other than those for county-level offices. The order also prevents BCRCC from distributing printed materials, mailers, social media, phone calls and advertisements "of any kind." 

The Idaho Republican Party asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order on Thursday to prevent the committee and the BCRCC chairman, Mark Fuller, from continuing to distribute the flyer and “similar false statements, which threaten irreparable harm to voters, candidates and the electoral process.”

The Idaho GOP argued that the BCRCC violated party bylaws by endorsing candidates in contested Republican primary election contests for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, the Idaho Legislature and statewide offices. Under Idaho law, the Idaho GOP argues, bylaws and Idaho GOP rules are binding contracts on party members, including members of the BCRCC.

RELATED: Idaho Republican Party takes legal action over Bonneville County GOP flyer

One exhibit included in the Idaho GOP’s verified complaint, obtained Thursday by KTVB, is a flyer stating, “the OFFICIAL Republican Party recommends these conservative candidates,” and urges the reader to go to the Bonneville County GOP’s website for “vetting results” and to take the flyer, dubbed a “sample ballot,” to the polls. The flyer lists specific “recommended” candidates running in contested races as well as those running unopposed in the May 17 primary.

Among the defendants named in the Idaho GOP's complaint was Bryan Smith, who is running in the Republican primary against incumbent Rep. Mike Simpson for the Second Congressional District U.S. House seat. Smith was among the candidates recommended on the Bonneville GOP flyer.

"Indeed, voters have already started showing up at polling places with the false and misleading flyer, and on information and belief, Defendants (the BCRCC, etc.) plan to continue distributing the flyer through the close of voting on Tuesday. Nothing short of judicial intervention can safeguard the rights of Plaintiffs and Idaho's candidates and voters," the complaint stated.

The Idaho GOP stated in its complaint that rather than supporting its mission to ensure a fair and orderly process "in which both candidates and voters can be heard," and following the state party's rules against endorsing state and federal candidates, "the BCRCC and its Chairman, and most of its members, have gone rogue."

“The bylaws of the BCRCC unambiguously require it to remain neutral in Republican-party primaries,” the Idaho GOP stated in its motion for a temporary restraining order.

The Idaho GOP also alleges that the BCRCC made “direct cash contributions” to Republican candidates in contested primary races.

On Friday, Idaho GOP Chairman, Tom Luna, said it was "regrettable" the party felt obligated to take legal action, but was pleased with the judge's decision. 

“While we’re pleased with the court's decision, it’s regrettable that we were forced to take this action through the judiciary," Luna said. "At the end of the day, this is about party unity. The Republican Party needs to speak with one unified voice and the state party rules were put in place to ensure that happens. Rules and laws exist to help us navigate when we disagree.”

Tuesday, before the complaint was filed in court, Luna issued a statement saying, in part, "normally, the Idaho Republican Party would not comment on political materials distributed during a primary election. In instances where the official Republican Party of the state is called into question, however, the Idaho Republican Party is compelled to respond."

In a post on its Facebook page, the Bonneville County Republican Party calls itself "the official Republican Party in Bonneville County," and said Wednesday that it "stands behind the hard work of our volunteers, our candidate recommendations, and the publications that we have sent out.

"We follow party rules, and we take our responsibility to inform voters seriously. Any accusation to the contrary is false...

"Voters won't get a straight story from liberals in the media, and they won't get a straight story from the mountains of biased campaign literature, either. If you want to know who the best conservative Republican candidates are, your best source is the party itself," the Bonneville County GOP statement concludes, in a post that once again shared the flyer being challenged by the Idaho GOP.

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