COEUR d'ALENE - Truth North Idaho, a newly formed political action committee, posted a message on its website Tuesday that appears to be an admission that it did, in fact, use fictitious emails to deceptively elicit responses from four Coeur d'Alene City Council candidates.
"TNI extensively researched the candidates' writings, official websites, and statements to determine their candid and honest answers to the questions posed, regardless of who is asking the question," the message said.
Jeremy Morris, president of Liberty Consulting, who manages public relations for TNI, did not respond to a telephone request to explain how he obtained the fictitious emails on Tuesday.
On Monday, Morris denied that TNI had anything to do with emails sent from Vince Harding and Samantha Tunic, but on Tuesday TNI posted the candidate responses to those emails in their entirety.
"Truth North Idaho PAC has not contacted any candidates, neither directly, nor through the auspices of a pen name," Morris had told The Press on Monday.
The candidate responses posted on TNI's website are directed to Vincent Harding, who left a phone number in his email. When The Press called the number Monday trying to contact Harding, Morris answered the phone.
The Harding email questioned only the four candidates who have been endorsed by Balance North Idaho, another political action committee that was formed earlier this year to endorse candidates in non-partisan elections based on their qualifications regardless of their partisan leanings.
Amy Evans, Steve Widmyer, Kiki Miller and Woody McEvers all responded to the email, but said on Tuesday that they thought it was a little suspicious.
The Harding email asked: "My question was about whether you would be willing to look into whether it is appropriate to have prayer - particularly a prayer administered from one religious Christian sect - at a public meeting. I would be happy to talk to you. But just a quick response from you acknowledging my concern and your willingness to look into it is all that I think is needed. You would not want me to sit this one out. I have many, many progressive friends in this community - and we vote!"
Evans said she couched her comments because she wasn't sure what Harding's motives were, but she stands by her response even though it was solicited in a deceptive way.
"I worked at the Kroc Center, where we started every meeting with a prayer," she said. "By no means would I come in and cut prayer in any way."
McEvers said he thought the email was asking if religions other than Christians would be welcome to pray at the council meetings, and he said he would welcome that. Since he has been on the council, they have always held an invocation at the beginning of the council meetings.
"In the 12 years I have been on the council, it has never come up as an issue, and now that it's an election year you'd think it was an end-of-the-world issue," he said, adding that even if the person scheduled to give a prayer didn't show, staff would usually give it.
Widmyer said it is interesting that Morris denied using fictitious names on Monday and then posted the evidence on Tuesday that TNI was behind the emails.
"I don't know where they get that I am against prayer," he said. "I stand by my position at the Young Republicans Forum at North Idaho College, where I said that even if the Supreme Court rules against it, I would still favor holding prayers before the council meetings."
Miller said she responded to the Harding email by explaining that the issue was being reviewed at the federal level and if it becomes an issue locally, she would have no problem looking into the appropriateness of prayers at public meetings.
"Regardless of what I think, the law is the law," Miller said, adding that her Harding email didn't include the word "Christian" and she wasn't sure what the writer was looking for.
Miller said for all she knew, they could have been asking if it was appropriate for the Aryan Nations to say a prayer, or some cult like the "Moonies."
"The way it was worded, I asked myself, 'what are they trying to get me to say?'" Miller said. "I really felt like someone was trying to get me to say something and use it against me."
Late Tuesday TNI demanded a retraction from The Press, saying the political action committee wasn't established until Oct. 25, and the fictitious emails were created on Oct. 16 and Oct. 21, so the organization could not have been behind the emails.
However, TNI Treasurer Barbara Hedden registered the Truthnorthidaho.com domain on Oct. 10. The Press stands by its stories.