February 8, 1998 in Idaho

Fund Raising, Session Coexist House Speaker Sees No Problem

By The Spokesman-Review
 

While Idaho lawmakers were debating issues like telephone deregulation and tobacco laws last year, some were soliciting money from the very companies pushing the bills.

“I don’t think it’s a problem,” House Speaker Mike Simpson said Friday. “No matter when you do your fund raising, people always have legislation before the Legislature.”

The three top fund-raisers from North Idaho in 1997 were all first-term legislators who were trying to pay off campaign debts.

One, Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden, raised $4,600 during last year’s legislative session, then wrote himself a check on March 15 for the full amount, to pay off part of the money he had loaned his campaign.

“I was over $6,000 in debt. I think the contributions came to pay off the debt,” Clark said.

“But I don’t think I have ever looked at who gives me money and how I’m voting.”

Clark voted in favor of a telephone deregulation law favored by phone companies, and received $300 from phone companies or their lobbyists. But all the other Republicans in the House who voted also favored the bill.

The recipient of $750 from agriculture interests, Clark voted for a bill strengthening Idaho’s “right to farm” law, as did most of his colleagues.

Clark voted against a bill to give the Idaho Potato Commission subpoena power to investigate bogus Idaho potatoes, despite receiving $500 from the potato-producing J.R. Simplot Co.

Clark said he received an 85 percent rating from the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, though many of his campaign contributions came from business interests. If money sways votes, he said, his rating would have been higher.

Rep. Larry Watson, D-Wallace, was the Panhandle delegation’s second-highest fund-raiser for the year, collecting $7,750 mostly from business groups. But only five of his 24 contributions came during the legislative session, and Watson said he purposely avoided soliciting donations until after the session ended.

“It didn’t feel right,” Watson said. “I didn’t want anybody to feel like they had to contribute to get my vote, or that they bought my vote.

“I just don’t think it’s the appropriate time or place,” he said.

Watson, who had about $5,000 in debt and had taken out a bank loan, sent out about 85 letters to potential donors - mainly businesses and political action committees - after the session ended. The return surprised him. In his initial campaign, most of his donations came from unions.

“I think some of those businesses are scared to death of Democrats,” Watson said. “They saw that I was moderate, willing to talk about things.”

Watson also serves on the House Business Committee.

Sen. Jack Riggs, R-Coeur d’Alene, the Panhandle delegation’s top fund-raiser, collected $4,850 during the first month of the session, and then wrote himself a check for $5,000 to pay off an earlier loan to his campaign. But he said the donations came in response to a fund-raising letter sent in November or December, shortly after the election.

He raised a total of $8,150 during the year. After January, his next contribution from a company or interest group came in June. “I would never have a fund-raiser during the session,” Riggs said, for fear groups with pending legislation might think he was shaking them down for money. “I don’t like that perception.”

Riggs received $250 from US West PAC in January 1997, though his district is in GTE’s telephone service area. He voted in favor of the telephone deregulation bill.

But Riggs said he doesn’t pay attention to who gives him money and who doesn’t. “That’s why I have a CPA do it,” he said. “I don’t make the connection because I don’t want to make the connection. My perception is that people who give me money know that about me.”

Riggs said because of that approach, his policy is that he doesn’t turn down contributions from anyone.

Clark, on the other hand, rejected a $300 donation from the Tobacco Institute last year.

“I wrote them a letter and I said I’m uncomfortable accepting this because the state of Idaho is currently in litigation with the tobacco industries,” Clark said. “That’s all they do.”

He said he would, however, take money from tobacco companies like Philip Morris or RJ Reynolds because those firms also have many nontobacco businesses, such as food companies.

Clark said he doesn’t consider contributions when he votes. Pointing to a lobbyist’s name on his contribution list, he said, “I voted against him” on a bill.

Rep. Ron Crane, R-Caldwell, who announced this week he’s running for state treasurer, said the timing of Idaho’s primary election so soon after the legislative session leaves lawmakers in an “awkward position.” Crane, who benefited from a campaign fund-raiser Thursday night put on by four Statehouse lobbyists, said, “You know your competitor’s out there raising money. If you wait ‘til after the session, you have narrowed your window significantly.”

But he said, “The inference that a campaign contribution somehow influences your vote, and that your vote is for sale, is ludicrous.”

Simpson agreed. The Blackfoot Republican, who is running for Congress, said he plans to have a fund-raiser for his congressional campaign during the legislative session.

The Republican caucus will have one, too, he said, as will the Democrats.

“We do that because we’re in town, and 25 percent of the people live in this valley, most of the business interests are in this valley, and we’re all in town then. That’s why we do it during the session.”

, DataTimes MEMO: See related story under the headline: North Idaho lawmakers list campaign donations

This sidebar appeared with the story:

WHO GAVE

Among contributors to North Idaho legislators in 1997, party or other political groups gave the most, at $5,150. Tobacco interests were the next-most generous, giving $2,900.

J.R. Simplot Co. and other agriculture interests gave North Idaho lawmakers $2,650; drug company donations totaled $2,450; and telephone companies and the Nez Perce Tribe’s PAC tied for fifth place at $1,150.

Unions gave $1,100; mining interests and Washington Water Power each donated $1,000; and timber interests donated $500.

See related story under the headline: North Idaho lawmakers list campaign donations

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHO GAVE Among contributors to North Idaho legislators in 1997, party or other political groups gave the most, at $5,150. Tobacco interests were the next-most generous, giving $2,900. J.R. Simplot Co. and other agriculture interests gave North Idaho lawmakers $2,650; drug company donations totaled $2,450; and telephone companies and the Nez Perce Tribe’s PAC tied for fifth place at $1,150. Unions gave $1,100; mining interests and Washington Water Power each donated $1,000; and timber interests donated $500.


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