Another year, another black eye for Idaho when it comes to a simple, commonplace requirement that lawmakers disclose general information about their finances so citizens can weigh possible conflicts of interest.
According to the Center for Public Integrity’s annual assessment, the Gem State is dead last again. Now, the state didn’t do any worse than it did in previous years, but that would be impossible when your score is stuck on zero. The state shares the accountability basement with Vermont and Michigan.
Meanwhile, Washington is one of the first-place states, tied with Louisiana. One would think that all of the alleged drawbacks to a decent disclosure law would’ve arisen by now, but legislators in Olympia aren’t unreasonably hamstrung, and Washingtonians are assured that potential conflicts are out in the open.
Some Idaho senators tried to erase the embarrassment in the last legislative session with a modest bill that would’ve required an annual report identifying income sources (but not amounts) and employers of state elected officials or legislators and their spouses, plus a listing of major Idaho assets.
The measure was fine with many previously skeptical legislators, and it was fine with the governor.
But House Speaker Lawerence Denny seemed to harbor bruised feelings over not being consulted during the drafting. So instead of airing his differences – if he had any – he made sure the bill never made it off his desk. Never mind that a legislator had to resign in 2005 over the kind of self-interest such a bill would’ve headed off.
Six months will pass before the Idaho Legislature convenes again. That’s plenty of time for Denny to get involved with the issue so that he doesn’t feel left out. That’s plenty of time to work out any issues that give him pause. That’s plenty of time to climb out of the basement and expose state officials to the light that shines on 47 other states.
Perhaps Denny could contact his counterpart in Washington, House Speaker Frank Chopp, to see what it’s like to legislate in a state with the most revealing disclosure laws in the nation. It takes just a few clicks at the Center for Public Integrity’s Web site to find Chopp’s sources of income, including bank accounts and investments.
This is how it should be.
Maybe a few Idaho lawmakers would be burned by exposure. Maybe others would decide that public service is just too public.
Whatever the case, Idahoans have an interest in open government that ought to trump the individual interests of state officials.