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Idaho Dems more likely to give at tax time

Wed., July 22, 2009, 6:59 p.m.

BOISE - In a state where Republicans hold all but one of the top elected offices and three-quarters of the seats in the Legislature, Idaho Democrats have consistently outperformed the GOP in one key area: Donations via the state’s tax form checkoff.

Idahoans are given the opportunity to donate $1 apiece to the party of their choice on their state income tax returns; it doesn’t raise their tax or lower their refunds. This year, 18,278 Idahoans sent their dollars to the Democratic Party, while just 13,378 chose the GOP.

In fact, since the checkoff was started in 1976, Democrats have collected a total of $735,574 - edging out the Republicans, who’ve taken in $728,412.

“That has been trending toward the Democrats,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, a Republican.

According to the most recent Boise State University Public Policy Survey, 40.2 percent of Idahoans say they’re Republicans, compared to just 25.2 percent who say they’re Democrats. Independents beat out Democrats, with 27.7 percent.

State Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said, “I think if you look at campaign disclosures, you’ll see that Democrats tend to get a lot of small contributions. I think it’s reflected in the income tax checkoff, and Republicans tend to get contributions from businesses or corporate PACs.”

Ysursa had a different take: “I think there’s some philosophical opposition to any sort of public funding of the parties more on the Republican side than, I believe, the Democrat side,” he said. “It’s an interesting trend to see.”

Overall, the amount contributed by Idahoans has been generally dropping since it hit a high of $154,600 for the two-year period ending in 1982. Until this year, the money was distributed to the parties only every two years; Jaquet, when she was minority leader in the House two years ago, co-sponsored legislation with House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, to move to an annual payout. That’s why this year’s total is just $34,320, compared to the 2008 two-year payout of $71,429.

The parties need the money each year, Jaquet said, and there was no reason to let the state sit on it. “It’s harder to raise money in an off-election year,” she said.

Republicans collected more than Democrats from the checkoff from 1996 to 2006, but since then, Democrats have had the edge.

“I hope we are receiving more because there’s a general feeling that there needed to be change, and there’s some excitement about the Democrats,” Jaquet said.

Ysursa said, “I don’t think we can assign a lot of significance to it, in my view. … The proof’s in the pudding at the ballot box.”

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