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Eye On Boise

Slush funds ‘the norm’

You can see Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s latest campaign finance report for yourself here; the governor, who is not running for re-election, has drawn criticism for using his campaign account, in part, for lunches out, flowers, candy, travel and gifts. But University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, a noted expert on campaign finance, says, “Almost all governors have these funds now. … They’re slush funds of a certain sort, they really are. And they’re used by public officials for virtually everything under the sun.”

Sabato said Richard Nixon almost was removed from the Eisenhower presidential ticket back in 1952 when a similar fund was discovered, and it was “far more legitimate than many of these slush funds today that governors and senators and congressmen have. But it’s the norm.”

Sabato said across the nation, public officials have used their campaign funds for everything from babysitting to meals and cars to wives’ trips to beauty parlors. “I’m not saying it’s right, I’m saying it’s the norm,” he said. “They’re all able to raise loads of money, they’re all able to make their lives easier accordingly.”

There’s no easy fix for it, Sabato said. “I believe legislation in this area is almost always doomed to failure. There’s always another way to do it, there’s always another IRS provision that can be utilized to form a committee or a commission or something that handles your needs. Public disclosure is the only option.”

Idaho’s requirement that such spending be disclosed is the best way to approach the issue, Sabato said. “He’s required to disclose, he did disclose. … Now it’s up to the people.”

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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