New Lt. Gov. Brad Little said last week on statewide TV that state legislators don't typically collect campaign donations during the legislative session, a practice some lawmakers are discussing banning, as many states do. He said such fundraising is frowned upon. But now Little himself has a big campaign fundraiser scheduled this Friday, sponsored by dozens of lobbyists with issues pending before the 2009 Idaho Legislature. A former state senator, Little now holds the tie-breaking vote in the Senate where he presides as lieutenant governor. Asked about the issue, Little told AP reporter John Miller, "Guilty as charged," adding, "It may appear a little disingenuous, but I never even thought about it." Click below to read Miller's full report.
Idaho's Little: Lobbyist event not 'best practice'
By JOHN MILLER
Associated Press Writer
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A week after new Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little said it was the "best practice" for elected officials not to accept campaign contributions from lobbyists during the legislative session, dozens of lobbyists with issues pending before the 2009 Legislature are chipping in more than $6,000 to sponsor a campaign event that benefits him.
This comes as minority Democrats promote a bill to forbid lobbyists from giving contributions during the session to elected officials like Little, as part of good government reforms. At least 16 states ban or restrict such giving from all contributors during legislative sessions; another 12 restrict giving by lobbyists, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Little, appointed earlier this month by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, would use the proceeds to run for the lieutenant governor post in 2010.
During a taped Idaho Public Television interview last Friday, the former Republican state Senate leader from Emmett said lawmakers frown upon campaign contributions from lobbyists during the session, to avoid appearance of any impropriety or "quid pro quo."
"Generally, if you look at the reporting, there is none," Little said during the public affairs program "Idaho Reports."
As lieutenant governor, Little presides over the Senate and is the tiebreaker in any deadlocked votes
Little added that while he's never seen favors exchanged for campaign money in the Legislature, "it's just the best practice, when the legislative process is going on, there's no campaign contributions."
But about 30 lobbyists are listed as members of the "Host Committee" for Little's luncheon campaign event on Friday in The Rose Room, a ballroom in downtown Boise.
To get on that committee, they had to pay at least $200, money destined for Little's campaign fund.
The event is being organized by Republican operatives, including Jason Lehosit, who is also raising money for Otter that he could use if he chooses to run for a second gubernatorial term in 2010.
Other lobbyists interviewed by The Associated Press on Wednesday said they'll attend the luncheon, chipping in at least $25 for entry. That additional money will also go to Little's campaign.
The host committee list includes lobbyists Bill Roden, working this year to fend off a proposal to boost the state's beer and wine tax to pay for substance abuse programs; Skip Smyser, who represents a company trying to win a multimillion dollar contract to provide a broadband network to public schools; and Qwest Communications International, which is also vying for that contract.
There's also John Watts, who represents Idaho chambers of commerce; the Idaho Petroleum Marketers, run by director Suzanne Budge; and Elizabeth Criner, who lobbies for agriculture conglomerate J.R. Simplot.
Contacted by the AP on Tuesday, Little conceded his campaign event three weeks into the Legislature conflicts with his statement on Idaho Public Television.
"Guilty as charged," Little said. "It may appear a little disingenuous, but I never even thought about it."
Little said Otter aides, including Lehosit, suggested he hold the campaign event, in conjunction with that evening's Governor's Ball, an annual Republican-dominated gala.
Little did say his role as lieutenant governor is different from that of lawmakers who are considering bills daily in committee hearings and have more contact with lobbyists attempting to inform and sway them to their cause.
"I don't vote other than in a tie," he said. "The fact that I'm a constitutional officer and don't vote, I think it's a little different."
Still, the power of the lieutenant governor to decide close decisions was evident in 2005, when then-Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, who Little replaced, broke a deadlock to allow Qwest to begin set its own rates after decades as a regulated utility.
Sen. Kate Kelly, D-Boise and an advocate for ethics reforms, is pushing the bill that would restrict contributions from lobbyists to lawmakers, the lieutenant governor and the governor during the annual Legislature.
She's secured an opinion from the Idaho attorney general indicating such a bill is constitutional.
Little's contention that he "never even thought about it" is ample indication that lawmakers have grown so accustomed to the present system where lobbyists can mix influence with money that they rarely give it a second thought, Kelly said.
That needs to be changed, not to root out corruption, but to boost faith in the process, she said.
"It's an appearance issue," Kelly said. "It's about public confidence."
Republican leaders in the Senate have said there's little chance Kelly's bill would clear a committee hearing, where GOP majority rules.
If it did, however, and there were a tie vote in the Senate on the measure, Little told the AP he'd cast a vote to approve it — even though he has no plans to cancel his campaign event with lobbyists on Friday.
"I'd vote aye," he said. "I think it's fair."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.