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Panel Reluctant To Tinker With Laws Committee Looking Into Possible Changes In Campaign Finance, Ethics Guidelines

A top-level committee looking into Idaho’s campaign finance and ethics laws doesn’t appear convinced much is wrong with the system.

But the group will meet again to hear from people who think it needs changing.

“Is something broke? Is that why we are here?” asked retired Judge John Bengtson, a member of the Legislature’s Committee on Ethics in Government.

“I’m not exactly sure what we are looking for,” said Jim Jones, former attorney general.

The committee heard from several witnesses Friday, and will meet again Dec. 5 to hear from lobbyists and lawmakers who have worked on campaign issues.

Other members are former Gov. Cecil Andrus, former Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles McDevitt and former state Rep. Dean Haagenson of Coeur d’Alene.

The state adopted its first limits on campaign contributions earlier this year, and they went into effect in July. The new law imposes a limit of $5,000 for each election for statewide candidates and $1,000 on legislative candidates.

Ben Ysursa, chief deputy secretary of state, suggested that changes wait until after there is some experience on how the law will work. Members seemed inclined to do that.

Deputy Attorney General Bill von Tagen said the state is embroiled in a legal battle in Lewiston as to whether last-minute noncash donations must be reported, which is the current law.

If the judge approves that argument, von Tagen said, “that could blow a big hole in our law.”

In a telephone call to the committee, House Speaker Michael Simpson, R-Blackfoot, told members that lawmakers have had a hard time dealing with the changes.

At one point Haagenson said trying to take money out of politics was about like “trying to take the contact out of football.”

In a letter to the panel, Rep. Jim Stoicheff, D-Sandpoint, and Sen. Marguerite McLaughlin, D-Orofino, said Idaho should consider lowering its newly set contribution limits, limiting or banning PAC contributions and some measures to combat last-minute infusions of cash.

Andrus said he might support lower limits and possibly a cutoff on contributions within a set time before the election.

Jones said after the session he didn’t think there was much sentiment for major changes, but the committee may recommend some “tweaking” of election laws to the next Legislature.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = From staff and wire reports Staff writer Betsy Z. Russell contributed to this report.

Tags: Election

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