Out-of-county money trickling into Dist. 3 commissioner race

Ad targeting BOCC Chair Luke Omodt paid for by Post Falls-based PAC

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

North Idahoans have become increasingly accustomed to negative campaign advertising over the past few election cycles, though typically related to hotly contested legislative seats. However, with about two months to go before the May 21 primary, the District 3 Bonner County commissioner race has so far attracted at least one attack ad circulating on YouTube and aimed at incumbent Commissioner Luke Omodt, who faces a GOP primary faceoff with challengers Dimitry Borisov, Jeff L. Glass and Ron Korn.

Glenn Lefebvre has also thrown his hat in the ring as an independent in the general election. (See Page 7 for more on the candidate filings.)

Post Falls-based Awesome Sauce PAC chairperson and treasurer Summer Bushnell. Courtesy image.

Titled “Freedom of Speech or Tyranny” and posted March 7 by Summer Bushnell, the ad tees off on long-standing controversies over public comment at Bonner County board of commissioners meetings, and specifically Omodt’s trespassing of county residents Dave Bowman and Rick Cramer from BOCC proceedings in January.

Paid for by Post Falls-based Awesome Sauce PAC — which Bushnell serves as chairperson and treasurer — the ad consists of footage from past BOCC meetings in which Omodt has spoken about limitations on public comments during business meetings, including the often repeated Ordinance 1-200 of Bonner County Code, which states that BOCC business meetings “do not constitute public hearings wherein the public has the right to be heard on every agendized item.” 

Another portion of the ad features video footage — apparently taken from among the audience — of Bowman’s trespass by Omodt, accompanied by Sandpoint police officers, as well as footage of Bowman and SPD officers in the parking lot of the county administration building.

The ad concludes with the statement, “Tell Luke Omodt that citizens shouldn’t be trespassed for attending public meetings,” along with his official county profile photo and contact information. It has so far been viewed 5,000 times.

Why a political action committee based in Post Falls would have an interest in running ads targeted at a Bonner County commissioner is unclear. Contacted through the Bushnell Media website, Bushnell did not respond to questions from the Reader by press time.

In an email to the Reader, Omodt said it was “just plain weird” that an outside PAC like Awesome Sauce would create, pay for and distribute an attack ad targeted at Bonner County.

“This smear campaign is misleading and ignores the truth,” Omodt wrote. “I remain focused on serving Bonner County. The first responsibility of government is to maintain public safety and stay within the limits of its authority as delegated by the people it serves.” 

Commissioner Luke Omodt. File photo.

He further pushed back at the substance of the ad, writing, “Asking an individual to leave a public meeting after they have threatened to take offensive action and warned of a shooting is reasonable and appropriate.” 

The controversy stemmed from a Jan. 15 email in which Bowman used what Omodt considered to be threatening language, including that the former felt it to be “within my rights” to take what he called “offensive action to defend myself” if told by BOCC Sergeant at Arms Cameron La Combe to leave the meeting room at the instruction of Omodt.

“Instead I retreated; if it happens again I will not retreat,” Bowman wrote in the Jan. 15 email, referring to a separate incident on Jan. 9 when Omodt directed La Combe to remove Bowman from a meeting for behavior he considered disruptive.

Furthermore, Bowman wrote that if he felt “threatened” by La Combe in the context of his duty to remove individuals at the direction of the chair, he would “defend myself,” and if “an altercation ensues, imagine the ramifications. Civil actions against the county, Omodt and Cameron, criminal charges against Cameron and Omodt, medical bills, potential injuries of bystanders, etc., etc. It could get very ugly. No one needs or wants that, however if it happens it will be on the county and the individual actors, especially now that this has been brought to your attention on the record.”

The county has since been given notice of tort claims filed by Bowman and Cramer.

Meanwhile, despite not responding to a request for comment, the pedigree of Bushnell’s political activities is well known. Among the examples of Bushnell Media’s work on the company’s website are helping design and maintain the Rathdrum-based Classical Christian Academy’s website and social media channels; creating and maintaining the webpage for Coeur d’Alene Republican Rep. Ron Mendive, as well as providing his social media content; and maintaining the website and creating social media content for the Kootenai County GOP.

Idaho Secretary of State campaign finance records show that Awesome Sauce filed its first report in February 2023 and over the following year pulled in $6,382 while spending $4,651. 

The most recent expenditure disclosed to the SOS was $200 in September 2023 under the “electioneering” category for Google ads. 

North Idaho Freedom Fighters has been the single largest third-party donor to Awesome Sauce to date, giving $1,553.53 in March 2023. It is unclear from campaign finance disclosures who serves as NIFF’s chairperson or treasurer — or for what purpose the group gave money to Awesome Sauce — but NIFF has donated to and received funds from numerous Kootenai County politicos since 2021, including donations to the Kootenai County GOP and 2022 Dist. 1B House candidate Todd Engel. Former-lieutenant governor candidate Priscilla Giddings spent $275 on “events” with NIFF in 2021, as did Coeur d’Alene Republican Rep. Joe Alfieri in 2022.

Bushnell’s highest-profile moment came in September 2022, when Kootenai County drag performer Eric Posey (a.k.a. Mona Liza Million) sued her for defamation related to a video Bushnell posted on her political blog “The Bushnell Report.” According to Posey’s complaint, the video shared by Bushnell had been edited to blur out Posey’s pelvic area, suggestive of nudity — a claim that Bushnell made when she accused the performer of indecent exposure at the 2022 Pride in the Park event in Coeur d’Alene.

However, upon reviewing the unedited videos and photos of Posey’s performance alongside the edited material, the Coeur d’Alene prosecutor’s office announced it would not file charges, as, according to a news release, “The unedited recordings did not depict any exposure of genitalia,” and, “The allegations of indecent exposure or other crimes cannot be supported by the evidence.”

Posey’s lawsuit, which is represented by Boise-based Stoel Rives, alleges that Bushnell knowingly altered the video in order to support false claims of indecent exposure. 

“The day after Pride in the Park — June 12, 2022 — Bushnell decided to boost her popularity on social media by seizing on the attention surrounding the event, especially the national coverage of the arrest of 31 members of Patriot Front,” Posey’s complaint states. “To do so, she fabricated a sensationalist story that Posey exposed his genitals in public, including in front of children. …

“Bushnell’s lies had the intended effect. Bushnell’s popularity on Facebook soared, as her video has been viewed approximately 19,300 times and shared on other social media accounts and platforms,” the complaint continues. “By comparison, her prior 10 videos were each viewed between approximately 235 and 1,400 times.”

Bushnell is represented in the case by Hayden-based attorney Colton Boyles, formerly of Sandpoint, who is no stranger to those familiar with Bonner County politics, having previously worked with Davillier Law and been involved with the initial drafting of a letter to the city of Sandpoint challenging the Festival at Sandpoint’s no-weapons policy, which evolved into a lengthy and expensive legal battle that ultimately resulted in the city’s victory.

Boyles also represented former-Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin in 2021 when she declined to provide complete, unredacted records to members of the press, and his own fees became the subject of headlines and further public records requests related to spending in McGeachin’s office. Boyles is listed among the “resources” on the North Idaho Freedom Fighters website, and in August 2023 spurred more controversy when the North Idaho College Board of Trustees voted to hire him as its general counsel, despite having “no previous experience representing a higher education institution and has ties to Idaho’s far-right extremists, including Ammon Bundy,” according to the Pacific Northwest Inlander.

The lawsuit between Posey and Bushnell has continued since 2022, with court records indicating a jury trial is currently scheduled for May 20. 

Finally, Bushnell made her way into local newspapers yet again in March 2023, when campaign flyers and door hangers paid for by Awesome Sauce PAC turned up throughout the Coeur d’Alene area making numerous claims about the then-upcoming school district levy that officials called “bogus,” “disgusting,” “unethical” and “un-American,” according to the Coeur d’Alene Press.

Meanwhile going into what is almost certain to be an uncommonly contested primary election — with slates of four or more candidates each running for both the Dist. 1 and Dist. 3 BOCC seats — Omodt said he’s not distracted by the onset of negative campaigning.

“The Bonner County taxpayers hired me to do a job and I remain focused and committed to providing our residents capable and competent leadership,” he wrote.

Additional reporting by Soncirey Mitchell.

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