There are probably as many reasons for blogging anonymously as there are anonymous bloggers. Some reasons might include fear of retaliation or retribution. Others might include protecting a job, a family member or a family member's job. Why a staff member of a U.S. Congressman would blog anonymously is a question not easily answered.
Some questions that can be easily answered are:
- Does the staff of an elected official have an ethical obligation for complete disclosure?
- Are there situations where anonymity by a public official might be acceptable and others where it might not?
- Should the public's expectations include identity disclosure by the staff of an elected official when the blogging includes advocating for that official or his policies?
- If a congressional staffer is blogging using government time and resources, should that information be made public.
Most people would answer "yes" to all of those. So why is a staffer for Idaho Congressman Bill Sali apparently blogging anonymously at The Idahoan? Let's see what we can find out.
Verifying who registered the domain name can tell us a lot.
Checking NetworkSolutions' WHOIS feature reveals that the domain name, THEIDAHOAN.COM, was registered through GoDaddy.com on Dec. 27, 2006. The registrant is listed as The Idahoan with a residential address on Fern Street in Nampa, Idaho.
Bridget Barrus is a former staffer of Idaho Senator Larry Craig and has been involved with many community organizations including Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families and Community Transportation Association of Idaho. However according to Switchboard.com, and the local phone book, she lives at an address on West Antietam Ct. in Boise.
Who resides at the Nampa Fern Street address?
According to Switchboard.com, the address is listed to a K. Hoffman. A public records search confirms that the address belongs to Wayne and Kimberly Hoffman. Yes, that Wayne Hoffman.
Wayne Hoffman, a long time journalist most recently with the Idaho Statesman, is currently the communications director for Idaho Congressman Bill Sali, a post that he took in March of this year. Prior to that he was a management specialist at the Idaho Dept. of Education, given that position Jan. 2 by newly-elected Superintendent Tom Luna.
Last year he was Tom Luna's campaign director during the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction and he was also a consultant for Bill Sali's congressional campaign that year. He did both while employed as a special assistant to the director at the Idaho Department of Agriculture. During the campaign, one of Luna's primary opponents, Steve Smylie, pointed out that Hoffman may have been campaigning on state time, an accusation that Hoffman denied. [The link is a copy of the cached version of an Idaho Press-Tribune article. The Boise Weekly also has a good report.]
So the address provided when The Idahoan was registered just happens to be the address of Wayne Hoffman who is now a Sali staffer. That doesn't necessarily prove that Hoffman is the blogger at The Idahoan but it does prove that he's at least connected. It also raises the question of why Hoffman's name wasn't used on the registration.
I suppose if you've already been accused of using government time for campaigning and other political purposes you'd be a little shy about having your name associated with a political blog...maybe?
So what is The Idahoan all about anyway?
A June entry marking the 100th posting points out the blog's objective.
We hope to build it into a news source that will one day rival that of the mainstream media. Our dream is to have a team of reporters and contributors who can spread the message of small government, lower taxes and the power of individuals and the family. It is important that we all stay engaged. These are the days, months and years that will determine whether conservative politics has a future in Idaho. There is a significant liberal beachhead that has established itself here in Idaho. Can we push it back? This is our state and our values. We have the opportunity to shape the future.
Most of the content is pretty typical of an Idaho conservative blog. Early childhood education, closed primaries and the community college are hot topics. There are postings on Tom Luna, including one on Luna's budget that was posted while Hoffman was employed with the education department. There are also posts on Bill Sali, including one defending his vote against increasing Federal enforcement of dog and cockfighting, written while Hoffman was on Sali's staff.
There is even an entry where the author takes issue with a blog posting by the Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert regarding Wayne Hoffman's view of pre-k.
Reading through the posts, which are written with a certain journalistic style, lends one to believe that they could be written by a former news reporter. Is it Hoffman? There's a pretty good chance that it is.
Then for an interesting twist, check this out. Look at the RSS feed of the blog. You can see that at least some of the content was posted on weekdays during working hours. So that would be on government time. Hmmm, sound familiar?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with blogging anonymously, I'm doing it myself after all, but there are at least ethical problems when that person is a staff member of an elected official. If Congressman Sali's communication director, Wayne Hoffman, is blogging at The Idahoan, apparently on government time and with government resources, he has an obligation to disclose that information to the public.
[Full disclosure: I am not now nor have I ever been on the staff of an elected official. I have never been employed by a candidate or campaign. I have never been elected to any office higher than high school student body vice president. I have donated to just two political campaigns in my life, the 2004 presidential campaign of John Kerry and the 2006 congressional campaign of Larry Grant. My grandfather, a Republican, was a prominent Boise city councilman in the 70's and I am related to a powerful Republican state senator, who btw has no idea that I blog. The Idaho Democratic party didn't even know I existed until a few months ago. Oh...and I currently have one dog and one cat whose political affiliations remain a mystery. I guess that's everything then, except to say thanks to a reader for providing the tip.]