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Remove all limits on political contributions? Idaho panel considers changes…

Sens. Marv Hagedorn, Mark Harris, and Michelle Stennett review proposed draft legislation on campaign finance reporting at a meeting of the Idaho Legislature's campaign finance reform and ethics work group on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, at the Idaho Capitol. (Betsy Z. Russell)
Sens. Marv Hagedorn, Mark Harris, and Michelle Stennett review proposed draft legislation on campaign finance reporting at a meeting of the Idaho Legislature's campaign finance reform and ethics work group on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, at the Idaho Capitol. (Betsy Z. Russell)

As the Legislature’s campaign finance and ethics work group opens its day-long meeting today, it’s being presented with two alternative drafts for major changes in the state’s campaign finance reporting laws. One removes all limits on campaign contributions in Idaho, while also making other changes designed to simplify requirements and increase reporting; the second leaves the limits in place, at the request of Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, and makes more modest changes.

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said, “My memory serves me that at the first meeting, it was brought up as an example by the secretary,” as far as the general idea of more disclosure rather than limits. But, she said “I didn’t hear us as a committee say that that’s what we wanted in the legislation. I’m not sure I’m comfortable saying that it’s unlimited, because I think that leads to corrupt politics, in my opinion.” Stennett said she wasn’t clear “that this committee wants that included.”

Kristin Ford, the legislative staffer who is presenting the two drafts to the committee, said, “You’re absolutely correct, I really didn’t have firm directives from the committee as a consensus on many of these things. … I was taking ideas and sort of floating them out there. That’s why I’ve been eager to present this to you. … I’m happy to getting down to whittling down to what the committee as a whole really is for or against.”

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, the panel’s co-chair, noted that the other draft doesn’t have removal of limits, and the committee can make that decision today, as to whether to include it or not.

Idaho’s limits on campaign contributions were enacted by voter initiative in 1974 as the Idaho Sunshine Law.

Ford told the lawmakers that the removal of limits on how much an individual or corporation can contribute to a particular candidate “sounds maybe a little bit radical.” But she noted that courts increasingly are viewing political contributions as free speech. “Our neighbor Montana has just had their contribution limits overturned in court, it’s still on appeal,” she said. “There seems to be a progression toward that direction. I think it’s not insane to get the horse before the cart and just eliminate them yourselves, with the caveat that we won’t have limits but we will have increased disclosure that we hadn’t had before.”

She also noted that Idaho’s existing limits are higher those that were struck down in Montana.

Ford said in the proposed drafts, she tried to distill the ideas brought up at previous committee meetings, with the consistent message of simplification. “I started to think about how we might be able to eliminate or combine various categories, have fewer opportunities for loopholes and that sort of thing,” she said.

Among the proposed changes are allowing candidates to have just a single fundraising committee, but to transfer the funds from it if they run instead for a different office. Reporting requirements also would be expanded to local offices, and electioneering communications would have increased requirements for disclosure of who is funding them.In Draft 28 but not Draft 27, independent expenditures and electioneering communications would be combined into a single section of law, and subject to increased disclosure requirements. More frequent campaign finance reporting would be required, going to monthly reports year-round if there's any activity to report. PACs would be prohibited from receiving more than $1,000 from another entity that hasn’t also registered and disclosed its funders, whether in-state or out-of-state. 



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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