In his election night remarks, Attorney General Raul Labrador said his “job is to represent the people, not bureaucracy of Idaho.” He overlooked the fact that the Attorney General’s main job under Idaho law is to represent the agencies and officials of the bureaucracy. Labrador also promised to make Idaho “a better place for our families.”
These remarks are hard to square up with Labrador’s heavy-handed action against upward of 80 community organizations that serve families across the State of Idaho. Starting in early March, Labrador began serving civil investigative demands (CIDs) upon organizations that applied for and received federal funds designed to compensate for learning loss as a result of the pandemic. The CIDs were improperly based on statutes designed to go after crooks, scamsters and fake charities. One such statute is the Consumer Protection Act, which is intended to target con artists.
It is highly doubtful that the Cascade Public Library, or Parma School District, or Idaho Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs, or United Way of Treasure Valley, or Middleton Counseling Center, or Marsing School District, are engaged in unsavory business practices so as to justify treating them like common criminals. The CIDs require them to furnish an oppressive amount of paperwork to Labrador in a short timeframe.
This use of CIDs is virtually unprecedented and clearly outside of the intent of the laws cited by Labrador. It is unclear why he has spent so much time on this fool’s errand, although it could be that he was goaded into it by his friends at the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) and the lobbyist for one of the grant recipients. The IFF has a long-standing objection to public education and a vendetta against the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, which acted as a grant facilitator.
Or, it might be that Labrador was hoping to embarrass Governor Little by going after the Department of Health and Welfare (DHW), which administers the grant program. He served three DHW officials, including the Director, with CIDs. That is a bit dicey because DHW and its administrative officials, are his clients under the law. The well-regarded University of Idaho Extension Service, which administered 18 programs under the program last year, is also a state entity. If there really was a problem, shouldn’t Labrador have tried to work it out with his clients before initiating legal proceedings?
The issue appears to be whether funds were used to serve children under 5 years of age. Federal law allowed it. The Legislature targeted funds for kids 5-13 years old, but did not prohibit use of funds for children under 5. DHW’s grant guidance did not include such a prohibition, which was not an unreasonable interpretation of the state statute.
The CID statutes are not intended to apply to this type of issue. Idaho law provides a mechanism to examine whether funds are being applied as intended by the Legislature. Legislators may request the Legislative Services Office to conduct an audit and report malfeasance to the Attorney General. Before Labrador fired his salvo against the community groups, legislative budget writers did just that. Apparently, Labrador did not want to hold his fire until a report was available through proper channels.
Labrador’s misuse of his office has created a great deal of unnecessary fear and upset amongst grant recipients across the state who have done nothing wrong. They only responded to a grant opportunity to serve their communities. They followed the grant guidance given them by DHW, which was presumably developed with the assistance of deputy attorneys general. At most, this is just a dispute between DHW and some legislators. There was absolutely no reason to drag the grant recipients into it.
Some of the recipients are lawyering up to respond to Labrador’s unjustified demands for a mountain of paperwork. The best course of action for the AG’s office would be to apologize for this rash act and withdraw the CIDs. If that does not occur, legislators should call for an immediate halt to this foolishness. Perhaps Labrador could better spend his time going after fentanyl dealers, as opposed to innocent educators.