When Idaho lawmakers passed the state’s first-ever limits on campaign contributions this year, the limits were criticized as mere symbolism. But now they may cost Sen. Dirk Kempthorne’s gubernatorial campaign $290,000.
That’s because the law limits contributions from groups such as Kempthorne’s U.S. Senate re-election campaign.
“His U.S. Senate campaign is a legal entity,” Idaho election official Penny Ysursa said Monday. That means it’s subject to contribution limits of $5,000 for the primary election and $5,000 for the general election.
Kempthorne had raised $302,830 for his re-election as of June 30, according to the Federal Election Commission.
No federal rule would prohibit transferring that money over to a campaign for governor - but state limits on contributions do apply.
“It’s all pretty new,” said Phil Reberger, Kempthorne’s chief of staff.
Idaho’s campaign finance law went into effect July 1. It was passed this year by the Republican-dominated Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Phil Batt, who said he’d support it even though the limits on contributions are twice as high as those he had recommended.
Because most Idaho campaign contributions historically have been smaller than the new law’s limits, the limits were expected to have little effect on campaign fund raising.
Previously, Idaho had no limit on campaign contributions.
Reberger wouldn’t say how much Kempthorne’s Senate campaign fund has grown since the June 30 campaign finance report, but, he said, “it’s grown.”
“Kempthorne for Senate had been in a fund-raising mode,” he said.
The newly launched gubernatorial campaign, on the other hand, hasn’t raised a cent, Reberger said.
“The senator’s already indicated that contributors to his Senate campaign would be offered the opportunity to have their contributions refunded,” Reberger said.
That’s one of Kempthorne’s options. If he doesn’t refund all the money, he can let it sit for a future federal campaign; turn the fund into a PAC and make contributions to other campaigns (within contribution limits); or donate the money to charity.
FEC spokeswoman Kelly Huff said, “It’s any lawful purpose except personal use. We find a lot of candidates, especially if they’re older gentlemen or older women who know they’re never going to run again, open up a scholarship fund at their alma mater.”
Reberger said Kempthorne has made no decision yet on the use of the money, beyond offering refunds.
“Part of it is making sure that we have all of the legal information at hand, before any of those things are done,” he said. “A campaign has to do what it has to do, based on the law.”