Idaho Medicaid Expansion Ad Prompts Transparency Questions

Nov 5, 2018

The Idaho Secretary of State’s office is looking into an online ad that linked to its voter resource website while promoting Proposition 2, a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid eligibility.

Appearing on Google, the ad’s headline reads “Idahovotes.gov | Make your voice heard | Find your polling place” but then expressly advocates for Proposition 2 underneath: “Vote YES on Prop 2. Help Idaho families and boost our economy.”

Nowhere in the listing does it reveal who paid for the ad. The ad was still in place as of early Monday afternoon, but appears to have been taken down.

“It’s somewhat misleading,” says Kristie Winslow, a spokesperson for the Idaho Secretary of State’s office.

“I think what it does is it undermines the trust that voters have in this office and that’s why remaining impartial is important and appearing impartial is important and this ad is not helping us do that,” she says.  

"Our ad was designed to help voters intending to vote YES on Proposition 2 identify their polling place. We directed them to the official state voting information page to ensure they have the most accurate information possible," Idahoans for Healthcare spokesperson, Caroline Merritt, said in a statement.

Merritt did not say why Idahoans for Healthcare failed to disclose it had bought the ad within the text.

Idaho law requires any political statements advocating for or against a ballot initiative must clearly reveal who paid for such an ad. Failure to knowingly follow this law is a misdemeanor.

Winslow says the Attorney General’s office is aware of the ad, but a spokesperson at the agency could not immediately comment.

Winslow says the Secretary of State’s office has contacted Google about the ad, but is still waiting for a response.

“When it comes to political ads, companies need to follow the law just as much as campaigns do. Voters have a right to know where that money came from.”

A Google ad advocating for the passage of Proposition 2 appeared over the weekend. The ad links to the Idaho Secretary of State's voter resource website, which, while run by an elected official, strives to be nonpartisan in elections.

Proposition 2 has electrified seasoned political activists and first-time door-knockers alike. If approved, it would extend Medicaid coverage for up to an estimated 91,000 low-income Idaho residents.

Idahoans for Healthcare has raised $1.6 million for the campaign since April. From October 1 through October 21, the most recent campaign finance data available, the group spent nearly $420,000 on broadcast advertising, including internet ads.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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