GOP senators bristled, harrumphed and took umbrage this morning when faced with legislation sponsored by all seven Democratic senators to start a public financing program for state campaigns in Idaho, and to require financial disclosure of state elected officials’ assets – saying backers of the bills were essentially questioning their integrity and suggesting they’re corrupt.
Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, told the Democrats “I take exception pretty strongly” to several pages of findings at the start of the public financing bill that said the current campaign finance system “undermines democracy” and “creates a danger of actual corruption.” Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said he personally doesn’t spend his time as a lawmaker fundraising, and asked Sen. David Langhorst, D-Boise, “Aren’t you prohibiting and stifling free speech?”
Former state Rep. Jim Hansen, D-Boise, told the Senate State Affairs Committee that elections are “an expression of our freedom, as you know, but we also know that it’s not free.” The public financing bill was an attempt to offer a way to sever the link between money and politics, he said, and was modeled after laws enacted by initiative in Arizona and Maine. “It’s been extensively tested in the courts and upheld,” Hansen, an attorney, told the panel.
Both bills were killed on party-line votes, but Hansen said their public airing was valuable, and he praised committee Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, and Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, for allowing the hearing. “You need to start the discussion with legislators in a public forum,” Hansen said afterward. “You need to have public conversations.” More than half a dozen people testified in favor of the public financing bill, SB 1037; none testified against. It was the first time that the proposal was the subject of a full public hearing. The last time it was proposed, several years ago, the motion to introduce the bill and allow a hearing died for lack of a second.