Posts tagged: A.J. Balukoff
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how charges flew – then fizzled – over the weekend as the Idaho Republican Party claimed that the Idaho Democratic Party and Democratic candidate for governor A.J. Balukoff were doing something “shady” involving passing money back and forth that might violate campaign finance laws. The Democrats responded that Balukoff had contracted out his campaign payroll services to the state party, and it was all reported, legal and on the up-and-up.
On Monday morning, the Idaho Secretary of State’s office looked into it and found no violation at all, instead concluding it's just “that time of year.” The state GOP now says it won’t pursue any complaint. Dean Ferguson, executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party, said, “I’m guessing they feel a little silly about it.”
Balukoff, a CPA and millionaire Boise businessman, is challenging Idaho GOP Gov. Butch Otter, a multimillionaire rancher, as he seeks a third term. The race also includes Libertarian candidate John Bujak, Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey, and two independent candidates, Jill Humble and “Pro-Life,” who legally changed his name from Marvin Richardson.
The Idaho Republican Party now says it won’t pursue any campaign finance complaint against A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor, or the Idaho Democratic Party over a payroll services contract. “If they can satisfy the Secretary of State and make that clear to them that everything is fine and dandy, then that’s good, and that’s ultimately what the purpose of our press release was about,” said Dave Johnston, Idaho GOP executive director. “We had received this complaint from several concerned people who brought this to our attention.”
He said the questions focused on the post-primary election campaign finance reports filed both by the Idaho Democratic Party and by Balukoff’s campaign, in which payments were shown but the GOP thought it wasn’t clear “what is what, and if it’s a donation or whether it’s a service that is being rendered.” He added, “If the Secretary of State is satisfied, we’re not going to go forward with it.”
Idaho Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst says there’s no campaign finance violation in the way Democratic gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff has set up his payroll services contract with the Idaho Democratic Party. “We talked to the Democratic Party,” Hurst told Eye on Boise this morning. “The way it’s working is Mr. Balukoff’s campaign actually prepays for the services. So he’s always ahead. There’s no violation of limits.”
Balukoff provides the money up-front, and then the party disburses it for his payroll. “It’s part of the contract that he has with the party,” Hurst said. “I don’t see a violation there.” He added, “It’s just that time of year.”
The Idaho Republican Party charged in a press release sent out late Friday night that Democratic candidate for governor A.J. Balukoff may be violating campaign finance laws by the way he handles his campaign payroll. The Idaho Democratic Party responded on Saturday with its own press release, saying the party has a contract with Balukoff’s campaign to manage payroll services and there’s nothing in the deal that violates campaign finance laws. “IDP’s contract has been carefully vetted by CPAs as well as compliance experts. We are fully confident in its legality,” party spokesman Dean Ferguson said in his release.
The GOP release suggests that “Balukoff isn’t paying for his staff,” and instead they are being paid by the party while Balukoff donates funds to the party to cover the costs. Jason Risch, attorney for the Idaho GOP, termed this an “abnormal shuffling of funds” and said he thought it could mean the Democratic Party was exceeding the $10,000 limit on contributions to a candidate, “including in-kind contributions such as paying for a candidate’s staff.”
“The purpose of campaign finance disclosure law is to bring greater transparency in campaign finances so Idahoans may see what candidates and political organizations are doing,” GOP executive director Dave Johnston said in the release. “Engaging in confusing money shuffling schemes that appears to violate campaign finance law also violates the spirit of the law – which is to provide greater transparency.”
Ferguson maintained the payroll contract actually provides greater transparency, is fully reported, and that Republican candidates also have contracted out payroll services for their campaigns.
Both sides also took the opportunity to fire a few shots at each other. The Democrats’ release said, “The statement from the IRP seems to be part of an orchestrated smear campaign launched by Republican career politicians, and their lobbyist infrastructure, because they cannot defend Idaho’s rank as last in income, last in education investment, and 2nd in minimum wage jobs.”
The GOP release said, “Balukoff, being a certified public accountant, should know better. However, he is the same candidate who presided over a school board election in Boise that was riddled with shady practices. Finding shady schemes in his finances reports is not a surprise.”
An Idaho Statesman story over the weekend explored how “Otter fatigue” – a phrase I’ve been hearing increasingly this year from those who watch Idaho politics – could give Democrat A.J. Balukoff a lift in his challenge to two-term GOP Gov. Butch Otter. The story, by reporter Rocky Barker, is online here. “Some Idahoans’ disappointment with Otter, a divided GOP and a spirited campaign by Libertarian John Bujak give the Boise businessman a chance to pull off an upset,” Barker reports.
Early polls still show Otter with a big lead, Barker notes. A poll released Saturday by YouGov, the New York Times and CBS News showed Otter with 51 percent, Balukoff with 33 percent, 13 percent undecided and 3 percent saying “other.” That poll, with a sample size of 844, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
But another look at Idaho’s electorate – though two years old, a much larger one – showed roughly 400,000 Idaho voters rejecting the “Students Come First” education reforms that Otter and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna had pushed through and voters overturned in 2012. Balukoff was a prominent backer of the referendum that overturned the laws. In the last general election for governor in 2010, Otter’s margin of victory in his big win over Democratic challenger Keith Allred was 118,803 votes.
Jerry Brady, the Democratic candidate who lost by just 40,000 votes to Otter in 2006, told Barker, “If all those who voted against the Luna laws vote for A.J., he would win.”
A disillusioned former Republican with an unusual story could throw a big wrench into the Idaho governor’s race this year. If Libertarian candidate John Bujak succeeds in his bid to appeal to disaffected Republicans who voted against Gov. Butch Otter in the GOP primary, he still might not win – but he could pull enough votes from Otter to swing the race to Democrat A.J. Balukoff. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Bujak, the former GOP Canyon County prosecutor, has mostly made headlines in recent years for his legal troubles: He represented himself in five criminal trials in the past three years, and was acquitted in every one. He’s says he’s getting traction now with tea party supporters and those who backed Russ Fulcher over Otter in the primary, among others. “Once people understood a little bit more about what happened to me, they started viewing me less like a slick attorney that maybe got away with something, and more like a champion for the people,” he said.
Bujak has a law degree from Gonzaga, he’s a Navy veteran, and he’s been a deputy attorney general for the state Human Rights Commission and a lawyer in private practice. He’s come out swinging in the race, and says he’s in it to win. Here’s his take on how the race will go:
“Butch is going to hide under his desk until the 11th hour and not engage any more than he has to, and trust that because he has the ‘R’ by his name the zombies are going to come out and elect him. Balukoff’s going to fight like crazy to try to look conservative enough even though he’s on the ‘D’ side, and to try to present some kind of viable alternative. And then there’s me who is running around talking to the grass roots folks who used to be Fulcher supporters, and hearing them say, ‘Y’know, we don’t want to vote for Butch, we won’t vote for a Democrat, but we need some kind of other alternative.’ … I think we’re going to surprise a lot of folks.”
The harshest political ad on the air in Idaho’s governor’s race goes after Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff, branding him a “liberal” and attempting to tie him to President Barack Obama. Balukoff, a Boise businessman and longtime chairman of the Boise School Board, says the ad is full of “lies and distortions,” particularly for tying him to Obama – when he was a supporter of Mitt Romney for president.
The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a business lobbying group, put out the ad as part of its independent campaign against Balukoff. The group maintains each of its claims is backed up by a citation to a news article or other source. “It’s a critical part of our mission to inform voters about the true positions of someone running for our highest office,” Alex LaBeau, IACI president, said in a statement. The ad is part of a multi-pronged campaign the group is running that also includes a website, LiberalAJ.com, and mailers.
Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics, said, “Is it over the top? Sure. But a lot of negative advertising is. Are there exaggerations? Yes. I mean, it’s a real stretch to tie a school board president to the president of the United States.” Weatherby said “liberal” is a political “dirty word” in Idaho - and that's why it's used. You can read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com. Tomorrow, I'll examine Gov. Butch Otter's new campaign commercial, which began airing today in southern and eastern Idaho but hasn't yet started up north.
John Bujak, Libertarian candidate for governor of Idaho, has posted his own anti-Butch Otter website entitled www.liberalotter.com – echoing the attack website www.liberalAJ.com put up earlier by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry to go after Democratic candidate for governor A.J. Balukoff, as part of the business lobbying group’s independent campaign against Balukoff. Both sites accuse their targeted candidates of being liberals.
Bujak’s site is headed, “Otter: TOO LIBERAL for IDAHO,” and faults the second-term GOP governor on everything from supporting Common Core to being a “Good Old Boy.” An item at the top of the page features Otter’s face morphing into Balukoff’s and back again, repeatedly, under the heading, “Otter & AJ: Both Too Liberal For Idaho.”
“Idaho can’t afford four more years of liberal leadership,” the site concludes, above a link that says, “Don’t like Otter? Want a conservative alternative? CLICK HERE.” The link takes people to Bujak’s campaign website. “I looked at the LiberalAJ website put up by IACI,” Bujak said. “It seemed to be a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black, since Butch isn’t really that much off the mark when you compare their positions on the main issues, so it seemed like the right thing to do.”
In addition to Otter, Balukoff and Bujak, the ballot for governor this year also includes Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey and independents Jill Humble and “Pro-Life,” who formerly was known as Marvin Richardson. Otter is seeking a third term.
Two write-in candidates also have filed to run for governor, both little-known independents from southwestern Idaho: Larry Allen White of Nampa and Kurt M. Wertzbaugher of Payette.
The newest TV ad to surface in Idaho’s gubernatorial campaign this year is a second one from Democrat A.J. Balukoff, themed around the historic Oregon Trail wagon runs south of Boise. “It’s another good introduction piece, but it doesn’t seem to be much different from the first one,” said Jim Weatherby, professor emeritus of public policy at Boise State University. “He needs to get his name out there and continue to introduce himself, but I think we need to pretty soon hear some more from him in terms of what a Balukoff Administration would look like and how different it might be from an Otter Administration.”
The only promise Balukoff makes in the ad is a general one, to “make quality schools and good jobs a priority.” Otter has been preparing a campaign commercial, though it’s not yet aired. You can see the ad and read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com.
The two major-party candidates for governor are offering “two divergent views on education” this week, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News, with GOP Gov. Butch Otter sending a guest opinion to Idaho newspapers saying Idaho is on a continuing “journey to education excellence,” and Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff sending out a fundraising email calling Idaho’s bottom-ranked per-pupil spending “downright shameful.” Both candidates used a back-to-school theme.
Otter writes, “As Idaho students head back to school, I’m reminded of how far we’ve come toward improving education in Idaho – and how far we still need to go. It’s been an interesting and instructive journey, and one that reinforces my belief that how we get where we’re going is just as important as the destination. Almost two years ago I called on education stakeholders to join policymakers in charting a bold new course for Idaho's schools. In response, the State Board of Education assembled a diverse group of working educators, business leaders, legislators and other experts. The product of their work was a slate of 20 visionary recommendations that now serve as our path forward on improving education.” He says as part of that, he’s “committed to replenish classroom dollars” after budget cuts.
Balukoff writes, “Kids all over Idaho are returning to school. Some of them will get five-day school weeks, others will get just four. Some will have pay-to-pay athletics, some will have music and art while others won’t, and many classrooms will be overcrowded. The Idaho Constitution requires a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools. Education in Idaho is anything but uniform. The only way to change that is by voting out the top decision-makers. Not only is our dead last standing in the country for investment in education unacceptable, it’s downright shameful.”
You can Richert’s full report here.
A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, has sent a letter to the board of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the business lobbying group whose PAC has launched an attack campaign against him including a website dubbed “LiberalAJ.com,” asking the business leaders to take down the website. Balukoff wrote, “This website is filled with lies and gross misrepresentations in a transparent attempt to mislead voters. It demonstrates an appalling lack of integrity.” He cited the Rotary Club’s “four-way test,” saying he uses it as an “ethical guide.” The test asks: “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
Mike Reynoldson, IACI board member, immediate past chairman of the board and director of government affairs for Micron Technology, said he stands by the “LiberalAJ” website. Asked his reaction to Balukoff’s letter, Reynoldson said, “First-time candidate who maybe isn’t all that used to the political process. Obviously he’s upset that the website points out his positions, and so he’s trying to detract from that by making this request.”
Reynoldson said many of the “LiberalAJ” site’s claims point back to information Balukoff had posted on his own campaign website. For example, under the heading “Embracing Obamacare,” the site states, “A.J. supports Obamacare and its disastrous policies saying, ‘rather than calling for its repeal, I would prefer to work with it.’ Idahoans know that a federal government ‘solution’ isn’t what we need. We can’t afford a governor who embraces Obama and his failed healthcare policies. SOURCE: AJforIdaho.com/faq.” Next to the item is a picture of Balukoff with a picture of Obama super-imposed next to him.
Balukoff’s list of 23 “frequently asked questions” on his website includes, “What do you think about the Affordable Care Act?” His response, in part, says, “The Affordable Care Act is far from perfect, and it is not what I would have recommended. But rather than calling for its repeal, I would prefer to work with it and try to amend the parts of the law that are problematic. The problems in the law could be resolved through cooperation and compromise. Small businesses with few employees have a difficult time providing affordable health insurance for their employees, especially when one or two employees have a history of medical problems. The insurance premiums are high because the risk pool is small. This problem is fixed by the employees joining a larger risk pool, which is exactly what the state’s existing health insurance exchange provides—the opportunity to join a larger risk pool in an Idaho-run health insurance exchange rather than the federal exchange.”
Both IACI and GOP Gov. Butch Otter, whom Balukoff is challenging, supported the state-run insurance exchange, which Otter championed. But Reynoldson said, “His position and IACI’s position are different.”
A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic challenger to Idaho GOP Gov. Butch Otter, in response to yesterday’s announcement from the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry that it’s launching an independent campaign against him, said it shows that Otter “is determined to run away from his poor record on education and jobs in Idaho.” Said Balukoff, “He has decided to go negative. That’s disappointing, because we feel the voters should hear directly from the candidates about their views and records.”
He also slammed IACI – the business lobbying group that’s the former employer of Otter’s campaign manager, Jayson Ronk – for launching a “slander campaign,” noting that the group’s new anti-Balukoff website is critical of positions he’s taken that match those of IACI, including support for Medicaid expansion and the state health insurance exchange. You can read Balukoff’s full statement here.
Click below for a full report on the IACI effort from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.
The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a lobbying group that represents the state’s largest businesses, announced today that its political action committee, the Idaho Prosperity Fund, is launching an independent campaign against A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor. “A.J. Balukoff wants Idahoans to think he’s some kind of level-headed moderate,” said Alex LaBeau, IACI chief. He said his group will seek to counter that impression and tie Balukoff to Democratic President Barack Obama, drawing on everything from Balukoff’s voting record as a Boise school board member to his campaign website.
“As the voice for a strong and vibrant economy in Idaho, the Prosperity Fund believes it’s a critical part of our mission to inform voters about the true positions of someone running for our highest office,” LaBeau said. He said the campaign will include television, direct mail, social media and more, and will be centered around a new website dubbed “LiberalAJ.com.”
Asked why his group decided to launch the effort, LaBeau said, “We wanted to make sure that there wasn’t just one side of the issue getting out there. We wanted to make sure that people understood there are two sides to this campaign.”
Balukoff is challenging GOP Gov. Butch Otter, who is seeking a third term; former Canyon County prosecutor John Bujak also is in the race, running as a Libertarian. The ballot also includes independents Jill Humble and “Pro-Life,” and Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey.
A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor, has sent a guest opinion out to Idaho news media laying out his vision for improving the state’s economy. “Under the state’s current leadership, our economy has plummeted,” he writes. “Today, Idaho’s families work harder for less.”
Balukoff calls for more funding for both K-12 and higher education; targeted help for existing businesses, including infrastructure improvements; and “building a better Idaho brand,” on which he writes, “My opponent has perpetrated the stereotype that Idaho is a backwater haven for political extremists. His divisive policies have driven Idaho to the bottom economically. Inadequate education investment and a national media spotlight on our foibles are bad for business. A governor should know that.”
Balukoff’s full piece is online here; I’m awaiting response from Otter’s campaign. (UPDATE: Otter's campaign said Wednesday that it would have no response.)
Shoppers at the Albertson’s store at 16th and State streets reported an unusual sight this morning – Gov. Butch Otter and a crew apparently filming a campaign commercial, doing multiple takes. Otter campaign spokeswoman Kaycee Emery confirmed that’s what was happening. “We’re currently in production,” she said. “I can’t really discuss the details, but we have been to a variety of locations and we’ll continue to utilize a variety of locations across the valley.” The date that Otter’s new campaign spot will begin airing hasn’t yet been finalized, she said.
Meanwhile, the GOP governor’s Democratic challenger, A.J. Balukoff, has had his own TV campaign commercial up and running for more than a month now; it starts airing in the Spokane television market tomorrow.
The first campaign commercial of Idaho’s governor’s race is out, and it’s from GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s Democratic challenger, millionaire businessman A.J. Balukoff. “Tired of business as usual in Boise? Then take a look at A.J. Balukoff, a successful businessman who’s created jobs by bringing people together to get things done,” the ad begins.
“It’s a good positive ad introducing himself to the people of Idaho, in terms of his background and that he’ll run on a change platform,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University emeritus professor and longtime observer of Idaho politics. “We don’t know exactly what he will do, but he needs to introduce himself. He’s not well-known outside the Boise valley.” You can read my full ad-watch story here at spokesman.com, and watch the commercial here.
A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor, is criticizing GOP Gov. Butch Otter for destroying 22 of the 37 applications for two recent openings on the state Board of Education, saying Otter isn’t following through with his pledge to emphasize openness in government, made when he appointed a state public records ombudsman in his office this spring. However, in his statement, he mixes up the Idaho Public Records Law and the state Constitution. “That was my error,” said Mike Lanza, communications director for Balukoff’s campaign; he said a corrected statement is in the works. “We’re talking about the law here,” Lanza said. (Update: A corrected statement was posted within an hour.)
Balukoff said, “Gov. Otter made a great show of this appointment, which followed a request from newspaper publishers for better government compliance with the freedom of information and public-records laws. The Otter administration’s handling of this episode raises two questions: How committed is the governor to obeying state open-records law? And why would his administration conceal from us some applicants for a high-profile state board?”
Balukoff also charged that Otter’s move violated the state Constitution, incorrectly attributing a passage from the Public Records Act to the Idaho Constitution. “The public has the constitutional right to know who’s seeking positions in government, and there was no legitimate reason to have destroyed those records,” he said.
Otter’s public records ombudsman, Cally Younger, told Idaho Education News that the applications were destroyed because they contained personal information; the news outlet had requested all the applications. But those that weren’t destroyed, and were released, also contained personal information such as driver’s license numbers; it was redacted, or blacked out, in the released versions.
Lanza said, “The language is pretty darn clear in that statute – it seems to be clear to us, anyway, as to what the government should be doing.” Balukoff’s full statement is online here.
A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, is matching contributions to his campaign by putting in $3 for every $1 donated this month, Idaho Statesman political columnist Dan Popkey reports today. Balukoff’s pledge is credible because the multimillionaire businessman can afford it – and he said when he announced his candidacy against two-term GOP Gov. Butch Otter that he was willing to dip into his own funds to help finance his campaign.
“I know that pay-to-pay politics will put my opponent at a financial advantage, but I was surprised to find out how slanted it is,” Popkey reported Balukoff said in a fundraising pitch sent out to supporters this week, headed, “Jump in July: TRIPLE MATCH!” Balukoff told Popkey, “I think it’s important that this race be competitive and that we talk about issues. People pay attention when they realize there’s a viable alternative to Gov. Otter.” Popkey’s full report is online here.
Former Canyon County prosecutor John Bujak says he thinks he can win his Libertarian bid for governor of Idaho, and told Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey today, “I represented myself through five criminal trials in the last three years. The establishment didn’t expect me to win, but I did thanks to the voice of the people who served on my juries. The establishment doesn’t expect me to win the governor’s race either. Come November, I guess we will see what the people of Idaho have to say about that.”
Bujak, formerly a Republican, was charged with fraud and theft, but was acquitted three times and juries were unable to reach a verdict two other times. Popkey suggested if Bujak runs strong as a third-party candidate, his run could tip a close race to Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff over two-term incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter.
Bujak responded that he’s not in it as a “spoiler,” but listed factors he said will help him draw votes, including that nearly 60 percent of Idaho voters aren’t affiliated with either party; the “large number of disenfranchised Millennials and Gen X’ers who have not traditionally registered to vote because they have no hope that their vote will make a difference based upon the choices at the polls;” and “the fact that the Republican party in Idaho is currently imploding. How can the Republicans lead Idaho if they cannot even organize and lead their own political party?” You can read Popkey’s full post here.
In addition to the official statement Gov. Butch Otter sent out yesterday lauding the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, Otter also sent out another rather different statement from his campaign – sharply attacking his Democratic opponent, A.J. Balukoff, and suggesting Balukoff “would happily go along with Obama’s attempts to repress religious freedom and individual rights.”
Today, Balukoff responded, saying, “By misrepresenting my views, Otter makes one point very clear: He knows he will lose if he tries to run on his own, terrible record.” Click below to read both the Otter campaign statement and Balukoff’s response.