Avista Corp. is spending thousands of dollars trying to unseat two longtime North Idaho legislators, throwing its support behind tea party backed challengers in next week’s Republican primary. Being targeted is state Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who supported unsuccessful efforts to establish a consumer advocate to review utility rate requests, and state Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, who advocates greater diversity in Idaho’s energy supply. Avista opposed both proposals.
Campaign finance reports filed with the Idaho Secretary of State shows that Avista has given each incumbent’s challenger $1,000, and has given $15,000 to three political action committees that are funneling money back to the challengers, Danielle Ahrens and Pam Stout, as well as sponsoring independent mailers and advertisements critical of Keough and Eskridge.
Neil Colwell, Idaho lobbyist for Avista, acknowledged that while the utility has supported Keough and Eskridge in the past it now would like to see them replaced, but cautioned against assuming all of the PAC contributions are being used exclusively to try unseating them. “We don’t totally control those PACs or anything,” Colwell said. But one of the three, the Greater Education Movement, reported spending money to support only one candidate since Jan. 1: Ahrens.
“We support candidates that are aligned with the interests of our customers and our company goals,” Colwell said. “And we just think we’re more in alignment with these challengers than the incumbents.” The three PACs are run by Lou Esposito, a highly connected GOP political consultant in Boise who was House Speaker Lawerence Denney’s pick to serve on Idaho’s legislative redistricting commission last year; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.