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Fri., May 16, 2014, 3:50 p.m.

Outside money floods Idaho races

Idaho Falls Post Register reporter Bryan Clark analyzed overall contributions to state candidates that have been entered into the state's campaign finance database so far this year, and found nearly $590,000 in out-of-state contributions, an amount that already exceeds out-of-state contributions at this time of year in any election cycle for the last two decades, with the exception of 2006. During the 2000 election cycle, 13.3 percent of those donations came from beyond the state, Clark reports. Click below for his full report.

Outside money floods Idaho races 
By BRYAN CLARK, Post Register

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — State candidates are awash in money coming from beyond Idaho's borders.

So far, nearly $590,000 in out-of-state contributions have poured into campaigns for statewide offices, according to the Idaho Secretary of State's campaign finance database. That amount already exceeds out-of-state contributions at this time of year in any election cycle for the last two decades, with the exception of 2006.

The increasing level of out-of-state funding increases the influence of out-of-state interests have over Idaho policy, said David Adler, director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University.

"The interest that outside groups have in Idaho politics has obviously increased because they can exercise more influence over the outcome of races here," he said. "More and more outside groups are trying to push legislation through the Idaho Legislature."

Many donations haven't been be added to the database. Officials said it will take several weeks to get them all recorded. So far, as a percentage, 20.3 percent of all campaign contributions to Idaho candidates have come from outside the state.

During the 2000 election cycle, 13.3 percent of those donations came from beyond the state.

Tobacco spreads its reach

One of the most prolific out-of-state contributors to Idaho elections is tobacco giant Altria Group Inc., formerly known as Philip Morris Companies Inc.

Altria and a variety of subsidiaries from around the country have given a total of $27,550 to more than 60 state candidates. Most candidates received contributions of $250 to $500 this primary season.

Spreading donations among a number of legislators shows Altria wants to influence state policy, Adler said.

"It indicates that they want to exert influence over legislation that will affect their interests," he said. "They want to be able to keep taxes down on tobacco products that . might have an impact on their sales."

In 2012, Blackfoot Republican Rep. Dennis Lake introduced a bill that would have raised cigarette taxes by $1.25 per pack with the intention of curbing teen smoking. The bill was killed in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, which he chaired.

Altria's influence isn't limited to campaign donations. In the year before Lake's failed bill, Altria spent $165,076 lobbying state legislators, 82 percent more than the next biggest lobbying group. Reported expenditures included $3,814 on food and entertainment, $2,500 each for three lawmakers to attend Otter's inauguration and $265 each to pay for two legislators' hotel rooms. Another $161,262 was classified under "other expenses and services."

Altria's largest donations this cycle have gone to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, who so far has received $2,500.

Dems still have the blues

Available state campaign finance data show Republicans outpacing Democrats: for every dollar raised for a Democratic candidate, Republicans have raised six.

In decades past, fundraising was more competitive.

In 1994, Republicans raised $1.36 for each Democratic dollar, but since then the GOP has at least doubled Democratic fundraising each year other than 2006.

Democrats have trouble bringing in outside money in Idaho because it is such a conservative state, Adler said.

"(Out-of-state donors) perceive that Democrats have such an uphill fight in winning elections," Adler said. "They would rather invest their scarce resources in more competitive races elsewhere."

Overall, Adler said there is nothing surprising about substantial amounts of outside funding coming to local candidates. "It's a reality in American politics," he said. "It would be rare for candidates these days to take resources only from in-state sources."


Information from: Post Register,

Copyright 2014 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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