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Eye on Boise: GunPAC’s targets curiously chosen

BOISE – Among the weirdest things that emerged from campaign finance reports in Idaho this week – which showed that House Republican leaders were funneling money from their leadership PAC to another PAC that then was targeting one of those same House leaders for defeat – was the purported purpose of that second PAC.

It’s called GunPAC and claims to be all about promoting gun rights. But of the three House incumbents it’s targeting, one owns a gun store; the second is a Vietnam veteran who’s championed military and gun issues; and the third is House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, the treasurer of the very House Leadership Victory Fund whose money GunPAC is using to try to defeat the three.

Lou Esposito, who runs GunPAC along with three other interconnected PACs, said, “Basically GunPAC’s all about Second Amendment and Second Amendment rights, but there’s also the other parts of it at play. You can’t look at that just in a vacuum and say, ‘Well, are they just right on the gun issue and wrong on other things where we’re losing either personal liberties or we’re getting taxed to the point where it’s hard to put food on the table and other things.’ ”

GunPAC endorsed 40 candidates for the Legislature, including the GOP primary challengers of Roberts; Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, a Vietnam veteran who is also a member of the VFW and American Legion; and Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, the gun shop owner.

Perry told the Idaho Statesman this week that she’s contributed gun scopes and other items to be auctioned off as part of the House Victory Fund’s fundraising, saying, “To go ahead and help raise funds and then have it spent against me, I’m a little taken aback.”

Esposito said GunPAC’s chairman is Stu Carty, and the only other one of its four board members he would name was former state Sen. Gerry Sweet, a gun dealer; he also said Sweet wanted to make it clear that he dissented from the decision to target Perry.

Paul campaign disavows plot

Ron Paul’s national campaign is disavowing efforts by Idaho supporters to use little-noticed precinct committee races as part of a strategy to overturn the results of Idaho’s presidential caucus, which Mitt Romney won with 62 percent support. The strategy involves electing delegates to the party convention who then would vote to suspend party rules.

“In Idaho, isolated instances of grassroots activists working toward an ostensible ‘hostile takeover’ of the GOP are not sanctioned by the Ron Paul national campaign,” national campaign manager John Tate said in a statement. Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey first revealed the plot last week; Paul placed third in Idaho’s GOP caucus, behind Rick Santorum.

Ethics and campaign money

Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, the Senate Resources chairman, spent $4,400 in campaign funds to pay a prominent Boise defense lawyer to defend him against an ethics complaint that ultimately was dismissed, according to Pearce’s latest campaign finance report.

Pearce’s payments to Peterson Law Offices made up 90 percent of his campaign spending for the reporting period, which ran from Jan. 1 to April 29; campaign funds generally can be spent for legal defense, if it’s related to legislative service. Another lawmaker who took advantage of that clause in the previous reporting period was Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, who also tapped campaign funds to pay a lawyer to defend him against ethics complaints in the House.

Avista ‘disappointed’

Avista Corp. issued a statement saying it was “disappointed” in my article last week on how the utility is spending thousands to target two North Idaho GOP lawmakers, Sen. Shawn Keough and Rep. George Eskridge, for defeat in Tuesday’s primary. The statement suggested the article was misleading because it lacked greater examination of the entire scope of the utility’s political activities, including its activities in the state of Washington. The statement made no claim that the article was inaccurate.

Meanwhile, S-R City Editor Addy Hatch noted that a link to Avista’s statement had been posted with the story and added, “As far as setting the record straight, we believe the story is factual and fair, and we stand by it.”

And among the more than two dozen reader comments on the story on our website was this one, posted Thursday by commenter PerryE:

“I’m George Eskridge’s son, and a lobbyist myself. I agree with Avista that the article wasn’t quite clear enough on the fact that Avista warned my father several months ago, during Idaho’s legislative session, that if he didn’t vote Avista’s way that Avista would be sure that Rep. Eskridge wouldn’t be re-elected. Growing up, during ‘family summer trips’ visiting the various Bonneville customers my father so diligently served, I watched my father advocate for cheaper power for utilities and their customers. Now he’s working very hard to ensure that the families in his legislative district have access to cheaper power to keep the lights and heat on as they also work to stay in their homes and put food on their tables. Now, as Avista has been caught trying to make good on (Avista lobbyist Neil) Colwell’s threats, at least Avista could have the decency to owe up to Avista’s political efforts. Their customers, and my dad’s constituents, deserve at least that much!”