According to Spokane, Washington’s Spokesman-Review, Republicans in the Idaho state legislature rushed a bill through in the final days of the legislative session to pay the Idaho Republican Party $100,000 in attorney’s fees and legal costs for a primary election lawsuit that it brought against the state and won. 81% of the Republicans in the Legislature are also members of the Idaho Republican Party. The Republicans additionally made a special effort to ensure that no matter what the outcome of the lawsuit, the cost would be paid by taxpayers.
Though it’s not uncommon for prevailing parties to get their legal fees paid in a federal civil rights case, what’s unusual is how the Idaho GOP set up its fee arrangement with its attorney – a rare “contingent fee” deal in which only the taxpayers would have to pay, not the party, regardless of the outcome.
“It was not something they had to do,” said John Strait, a law professor at Seattle University School of Law and an expert on federal court litigation. “The Republicans decided they would rather have him paid out of taxpayer money, and they set it up that way.”
Democratic lawmakers were agog at the Republican Party’s conduct. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise said, “I have to point out, we’re paying $100,000 for the Republican Party to sue the Republican Legislature, defended by the Republican secretary of state, in order to close primaries in Idaho – I just think this is so bad it’s comical.”
The suit sprang up during the Republican primaries of 2008. One part of the state’s Republican Party contended that the primaries should be open to Republican voters only. When the state Party met at its 2008 convention, a majority vote taken among delegates went against closing the primary, but the party’s central leadership acted on its own, suing to have the primaries closed. Party rules now dictate that the votes are open only to registered Republican voters.
Prior to the lawsuit, the state of Idaho didn’t even have voter registration by parties. Republican-backed legislation currently awaiting Governor Butch Otter’s signature could force all Idahoans to publicly declare their party preference for the first time.
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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