Idaho conservative group removes ads attacking county commissioner after safety concerns

facebook ads.jpg
Posted at 5:16 PM, Oct 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-29 19:16:43-04

This article was originally published by Hayley Harding in the Idaho Statesman.

A conservative group has pulled down online attack ads on Facebook against a Democratic county commissioner after the group said it became “aware of safety concerns she had for herself.”

One ad, posted by political action committee Conservative Citizens for Thoughtful Growth, called Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo “dangerous, radical, extreme,” for her “crazy green policies” and “radical social agenda.” Another accused her of “turning Idaho into California” for raising property taxes.

Conservative Citizens for Thoughtful Growth is a PAC that has endorsed several Republican candidates for Ada County races, including for county commissioner (where it endorsed Ryan Davidson, Lachiondo’s opponent) and the Ada County Highway District commission. The group is headed by builder Steve Martinez of Tradewinds General Contracting.

Martinez told the Statesman that the group’s concern with Lachiondo is that she opposes “thoughtful projects across the entire county.” He said his group does not want unfettered growth but wants to work to create housing policies that benefit residents and businesses.

While the ads no longer appear on the group’s Facebook page, they remain viewable through a search of Facebook’s ad library. Facebook’s ad library exists to allow the public to track ads running across the platform’s services, including political ones.

The first ad was seen between 50,000 and 60,000 times, according to ad library data. The second was seen between 10,000 and 15,000 times. In total, the group has spent nearly $10,000 on ads between May 2018 and Oct. 27 of this year.

The PAC has taken in at least $83,000 in donations from other developers, contractors, real estate firms and industry groups. Many of those groups oppose Lachiondo’s stance on impact fees, which are imposed on developers to help fund the services — including fire and police — required by new development. Ada County does not collect the fees, and Lachiondo has pushed for them to help pay for fund the things counties are required to provide its citizens.

Lachiondo has said repeatedly that her stance is based on making developers pay their fair share for growth. She reiterated her view in a counter-ad her campaign produced in response to Conservative Citizens for Thoughtful Growth.

“Here’s the bottom line: You and I are subsidizing endless new developments (especially those disconnected from any infrastructure) with our property taxes,” Lachiondo said in a news release last week. “I’m asking for that to change, and this is how some builders and their deceptive PACs have responded.”

Melanie Folwell, Lachiondo’s campaign manager, said that after the negative ads came out, there was a shift in how potential voters responded to text messages from Lachiondo sent as part of the campaign.

“People started saying some really ugly, horrible things, and a lot of it was directly language from the ads,” Folwell said.

That, coupled with protests at Lachiondo’s home earlier this year over masks requirements set by the Central District Health board she sits on, concerned those working on her campaign.

Martinez said his group took the ads down after learning they could have been “adding to the harassment that the commissioner was already receiving prior to our ads.”

“There is no place for threats or visiting a candidate’s home,” Martinez said in an email.

It’s hard to know exactly where else the PAC’s money is going, because it hasn’t reported any expenses to the Secretary of State’s Office.

What is known is that of that $9,000 spent on Facebook advertisements, most has gone to support Kara Veit, Rebecca Arnold and Dave McKinney, candidates for the Ada County Highway District Commission, as well as Davidson and Rod Beck, candidates for Ada County Commission.