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Expensive caucus drained Ada County Republicans’ campaign cash

Ada County Republicans are struggling with the bill from their biggest-in-the-nation presidential caucus last spring: $35,000. Now they're leaning against holding a big, single-site caucus again in 2016; the hefty price tag has left the Ada GOP coffers drained going into the general election season, the AP reports. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Expensive caucus drained Idaho GOP campaign cash
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Southwestern Idaho Republicans celebrated the March 6 "Super Tuesday" presidential caucus in Ada County as the nation's biggest event of its kind, with some 9,000 people descending on Boise State University's Taco Bell Arena.

"We're thrilled," Ada County GOP Chairman Dwight Johnson said that night.

After the party, however, came the hangover: A surprise $35,000 bill.

The hefty tab has left the group with little to give Republican contenders for the Nov. 6 election.

"We've been out scraping," concedes Darrel McRoberts, a former Idaho GOP state senator and Ada County GOP treasurer. "We don't have anything near like we did two years ago."

After BSU wouldn't reduce the tab significantly, party members are also leaning against holding a big, single-site caucus in 2016.

Perhaps most galling for GOP faithful, however, is this: When then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama held an event for 14,000 people in 2008 at the same venue, his tab was $12,959 — a third what Republicans paid.

Amid the cash crunch, the Ada County GOP is using donated headquarters space in south Boise. Two years ago, its headquarters was in high-profile downtown Boise quarters.

Meanwhile, GOP Sen. Mitch Toryanski is embroiled in a close race with former Democratic Rep. Branden Durst in east Boise. When Toryanski beat Durst in 2010, the Ada County GOP gave him $1,000.

"I really have not counted on getting anything from them at all this year," Toryanski now says. "If you don't have as much coming in, there's things you can't do. If you were planning to do two mailers, maybe you do just one."

McRoberts said BSU officials originally estimated a price of $10,000 to $12,000 to rent 12,480-seat Taco Bell Arena. Later, that climbed to $17,000.

But GOP officials in Idaho's most-populous county were unprepared for the bill they got in April: $31,197.88, plus a $3,953 invoice for parking. McRoberts believes BSU drove too hard a bargain.

"There's a lot of people that feel that way," he said. "What we're hoping, too, is that somebody can convince BSU, somebody at the Board of Education that's got some pull there, to say, 'Hey, why'd you do that to the Republican Party?'"

Why was Obama's bill for his Feb. 2, 2008, event so much less?

BSU spokesman Frank Zang said they were two distinct events, held years apart, with different demands — and costs.

Unlike Obama, Ada County Republicans didn't sign a contract with BSU. Also, Taco Bell Arena charged them a $5,000 facility fee, introduced after 2008 to help erase operating losses.

Moreover, Obama's event covered five hours, the Republicans' was 14 hours. GOP equipment costs ran $6,000, compared with just over $2,000 for Obama. Caucus cleanup cost $2,750; in Obama's case, volunteers collected garbage.

"It's almost an apples-to-oranges comparison, when you look at the two events," Zang said Friday. "One was a half-day event, one a full-day event. The events had different durations, setup requirements, different facility-fee structures."

Taco Bell Arena director Lisa Cochran, writing in a recent letter to Republicans explaining the differences, pointed out that John McCain in 2008 was offered the same services for the same price as Obama, if he'd come.

With the election near, Ada County Republicans are hoping Republican Mitt Romney beats Obama, then seeks a second term, making a big 2016 GOP caucus unnecessary.

But should Obama prevail and the 2016 election be wide open, then many, including regional GOP Chairman Rod Beck, favor using multiple high school gymnasiums, not returning to BSU.

"I particularly didn't like it when we got such a gigantic bill," Beck said. "It was really kind of like sticker shock."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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