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School reform campaign spending sets a record - or does it?

Idaho's fight over three school-reform ballot measures has set a record for campaign spending on ballot measures in straight dollars, reports Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey, eclipsing the 1986 battle in which voters affirmed the Legislature's passage of the Right to Work law. Between all the different groups involved in the school reform campaign, including independent expenditures, Popkey calculates that the opponents have raised $3.6 million and backers $2.6 million, a total of $6.2 million.

In 1986, unions opposed to the Right to Work law spent $2.8 million on the campaign to overturn it, while backers of the law spent $1.167 million to defend it, a total of just under $4 million; 54 percent of voters backed the law. You can read  Popkey's full post here.

If inflation since 1986 is taken into account, however, the 1986 battle still ranks as Idaho's biggest. Using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, which is based on the Consumer Price Index, the $3.967 million spent that year would equal $8.376 million in today's 2012 dollars.

So who did all this giving this time around? The biggest giver among proponents is eastern Idaho millionaire Frank VanderSloot. Between VanderSloot's independent expenditures and his donations to various groups campaigning in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the Melaleuca owner so far has spent $1.4 million, and he told Popkey, “I'm not done yet.”

On the “no” side, the biggest giver has been the National Education Association, which has donated $2.8 million so far. Second-biggest is the Idaho Education Association, which has kicked in $601,068, including $495,971 to the “No” campaign and another $105,097 to the group “Idaho Republicans for our Schools,” which is running radio ads against the measures. The “No” campaign also has received $36,500 from the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center in Washington, D.C.; $10,000 from Anthony Balukoff; $5,000 from the Pacific Northwest Regional Carpenters Union; and a slew of much smaller donations from individuals in Idaho. The campaign filed 44 pages listing hundreds of small donations from individuals, some as small as $3 apiece; the law requires disclosure only of donations of more than $50.

On the “Yes” side, the money has flowed through the official “Yes for Idaho Education” campaign, which reported raising $950,974, with VanderSloot's Melaleuca as its biggest giver at $604,500; and three other groups: the Idaho Federation of Republican Women, which got all its $428,000 from VanderSloot; Education Voters of Idaho, which revealed yesterday that the biggest givers in its $641,160 in fundraising were Albertson's heir Joe Scott, $250,000, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, $200,000; and Parents for Education Reform, a group related to EVI that raised $150,000, including $100,000 from Students First, a Sacramento, Calif.-based group headed by former Washington, D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, and $50,000 from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which also gave $50,000 to the official “Yes” campaign.

You can see all the campaign finance reports on the Secretary of State's website here. They're listed variously under Party Committees, Measure and Miscellaneous Committees, and Independent Expenditures and Electioneering Communications. The final pre-general election reporting period ended Oct. 21, but large amounts donated after that must be reported within 48 hours in separate 48-hour reports that show up on the same website.
  


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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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