This article originally appeared in the Jan. 19, 2018 issue of The Western News. View clip online. Award: 2nd place investigative news story, Div. 2: Weekly newspapers, Montana Newspaper Association 2019 Better Newspaper Contest.
Libby City Council member Angel Ford was fined $2,500 in November 2005 for failing to disclose that she sponsored and paid for campaign postcards she mailed that election season while running for city council in Hoquiam, Washington.
One postcard displayed a message that appeared to be written by Ford’s opponent, Kyla Houchens, and was written to seem as if Houchens was disparaging herself.
The masquerading postcard, in which Houchens’ last name was misspelled, stated the following:
“HI, my name is Kyla Houghens and I am running for city council in Hoquiam. Why should you vote for me? 1st — I know how to get and spend government monies, I live on welfare & food stamps. 2nd — I do not think we have any issues with teenage unwed mothers, my 17 year old daughter has a baby by her 22 year old boyfriend and she now gets welfare for her and the baby. 3rd — I have working knowledge of government programs like housing, I am on Sec 8 and only pay $128 for rent. I am NOT a home owner. 4th — My husband has a criminal record for assaults here in Hoquiam, so I know a little about how the police dept works too. SO why not vote for me. Call me if you want more info on me or my family.”
The postcard also listed Houchens’ return address and phone number.
In an interview with The Western News on Thursday, Ford said she couldn’t remember much about the incident, due to the passage of time and because medical issues have affected her memory.
Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission opened an investigation into the postcard after receiving a complaint from Houchens on Aug. 24, 2005. Houchens alleged that Ford — then known as Angel Kavanaugh — was behind the postcard, based on information from workers at the Staples Office Supply in Aberdeen, Washington, who said Ford had placed, paid for and picked up the print order.
Houchens also stated in her complaint that what Ford wrote about her was false and misleading, and that the postcard — as well as those Ford mailed on her own campaign’s behalf — did not contain the sponsorship information required on political mailings.
During its investigation, the Commission took sworn testimony from two Staples employees who identified Ford as the person who ordered and picked up the suspect postcards. It also gathered evidence showing that the postcard source file was sent from Ford’s email address and that the order was paid for in cash using a Staples rewards card under another of Ford’s previous married names. The Houchens postcard was also nearly identical to two other postcards Ford ordered for use in her own campaign, using the same software to produce the files and the same email address to send them to Staples.
The Commission also had set out to determine whether Ford had violated a statute prohibiting false political advertising, but soon stopped that part of the investigation due to a pending court appeal holding that the statute was unconstitutional.
Despite the evidence implicating her, case documents show that Ford maintained her innocence, speculating that someone else was using a previous version of her rewards card and that someone could have forged her email address — and stating “that if it was proved that the email did originate from her computer, she was nevertheless not responsible.”
In an order dated Nov. 17, 2005, the Commission unanimously concluded that Ford violated the law both by not identifying herself as the sponsor of the Houchens postcard and “by concealing campaign expenditures for political advertising” by not identifying herself as the postcard’s sponsor and by falsely implying that Houchens was the sponsor.
Acknowledging Ford’s denials of involvement in the case, the Commission stated it found the Staples employees’ testimonies both “more credible” than Ford’s and corroborated by other evidence.
The Commission ordered Ford to pay a $2,500 fine.
Nine days before the Commission imposed its order, Ford lost the election to Houchens, 71 percent to 24 percent.