BOISE – The recent races for governor and an open seat in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District were likely the most expensive in state history, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said.
Gov.-elect C.L. “Butch” Otter, a former Republican congressman and millionaire rancher from Star, spent nearly $2.8 million to defeat Democratic newspaper publisher Jerry Brady, according to campaign finance reports filed with Ysursa’s office.
In the 1st District, U.S. Rep.-elect Bill Sali, an eight-term state lawmaker from Kuna, spent slightly more than $1 million to beat back Democrat Larry Grant. Sali also carried almost $235,000 in debt and unpaid bills after the election, according to his Federal Election Commission spending reports.
Both candidates also benefited from so-called 527 organizations – groups that spend money on elections independent from candidate committees.
Otter received support from the national Republican Governors Association, while the anti-tax lobby Club for Growth and the National Republican Congressional Committee spent more than $1 million on pro-Sali ads attacking Grant as “too liberal for Idaho.”
“The amount of money they spend, like everywhere else, is really going up in Idaho,” Ysursa said.
The races saw a major influx of money. Still, Ysursa said, when all statewide campaigns are adjusted for inflation, a 1980 U.S. Senate contest between Frank Church and Steve Symms wins out as Idaho’s most expensive political race.
Ysursa said internal polls that showed a tight governor’s race likely spurred a major fundraising drive in the final days. On Election Day, Otter prevailed 54 percent to 43 percent.
“You had a proven fundraiser in Butch Otter who showed very early, trying to get out of the blocks, how well he could raise money,” Ysursa said.
Brady had not submitted his campaign finance report on Friday, a day after the state’s Dec. 7 filing deadline. As of Oct. 31, Brady had raised nearly $1.5 million.
Former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne spent close to $1.2 million to beat Brady in 2002 – about $1.6 million less than Otter.
In the race for Otter’s former seat in the 1st District, Sali outpaced Grant in spending almost 2-to-1 without including the independent spending. Grant spent about $682,000 and received essentially no outside money from the Democratic party and national interest groups.
Democratic activists and bloggers have groused that Grant and other candidates ignored by top party strategists could have won with more money. Grant fell short by about 10,000 votes.
Jasper LiCalzi, a professor of political economy at Albertson College of Idaho, disputed that logic. He said Grant was unlikely to overcome his party’s registration gap in the heavily Republican district, even if he spent millions of dollars.
“There’s a threshold that you hit where the money is almost wasteful,” LiCalzi said.
Sali is still working to raise money to pay off his campaign debts, said campaign manager and treasurer Jesseca Sali.
The Republican still owes nearly $110,000 to Spartac LLC of Meridian, a company founded last year by Lou Esposito, a man Sali called the “CEO” of his campaign.
Sali has paid Spartac more money than any other company or individual, according to FEC reports. Sali reports payments to Spartac for media buys, direct mail, grass-roots organizing, polling, get-out-the-vote operations and consulting.
He also paid other companies for similar services.
Sali still owes $55,000 to another mailing services firm, Bluepoint Consulting of Scottsdale, Ariz. Bluepoint frequently receives money from the Club for Growth, according to campaign finance watchdog groups.
In September, Sali was named in a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission that accused his campaign of illegally sharing consultants and other resources with the Club for Growth.
Federal election law prohibits such independent political groups from coordinating with the campaigns of candidates that they support.