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Eye on Boise: Donation pitch stirs ethics talk

Sun., Feb. 17, 2013

BOISE – When the Idaho Freedom Foundation distributed its 2013 Idaho Report on Government Waste to every state lawmaker, complete with a color drawing of a cigar-smoking pig in sunglasses raking in gambling-table winnings labeled TAXES on the cover, it had a little extra tucked inside: a pitch for money.

A donation envelope invited recipients to “support Idaho Freedom Foundation in its quest for limited, accountable government and individual freedom” by making a gift of $5,000, $1,000, $500 or $100, with the $100 level identified as a one-time payment that would make the giver a “Friend of Freedom.” There was also a space to list the lawmaker-donor’s credit card information.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, who noted that House members received the booklet and donations pitch in their legislative mailboxes, said, “The mailing privileges that we have should not be used for fundraising in any way, shape or form.” He added, “I don’t think there’s a rule that addresses that” but “I think as a general rule of thumb that it is inappropriate.” Bedke said he planned to speak to the group about the issue.

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, was among those concerned about the pitch for donations. “They grade us at the end of the year based on the votes that we make,” he said. “At the same time we get this book, we have an opportunity to donate to the Freedom Foundation. You could almost read into it, we all get graded. So is there some kind of an undercurrent there, some kind of a pressure, that we should donate to them in recognition that we get graded by them? It’s a little disturbing.”

Eskridge said, “As a general practice, I don’t take contributions to my campaign during the session. … I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do. We’re voting on bills, we’re doing legislation. This kind of hits me the same way. It may be legal, but is it really appropriate?”

Bedke said, “Fundraising activities during the session have fallen out of favor, I guess, for good reason.” Legislative campaign fundraising isn’t prohibited during the session, but Bedke said it’s become less common as lawmakers focus more on ethics.

This year, all lawmakers went through a half day of mandatory ethics training during the first week of the legislative session. “The different caucuses have sponsored fundraisers during the session, but we don’t now,” Bedke said. “My goal is to get everybody to step back and take a look at what they’re doing.”

Big turnout at ed sessions

More than 350 people turned out for a “listening session” held last week by the House and Senate education committees, urging lawmakers to address concerns about a “fiscal crisis” at local school districts, funding shortfalls for charter schools, and an attempt in this year’s Legislature to revive voter-rejected limits on schoolteacher collective bargaining. A similar session a week earlier drew more than 200. But when the chairmen of the two committees made their budget recommendations to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Thursday, neither mentioned the hearings or the testimony.

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, asked by legislative budget writers whether his panel favored state schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s recommended school budget amount for next year or the governor’s, which is $13 million less, said, “I don’t think there was anybody on the committee who would say we need less money for education.” House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, when asked the same question, said his committee “really did not focus on the revenue aspect.”

DeMordaunt called for pilot programs in technology at Idaho schools, with proposals from school districts to be reviewed by the state Department of Education; he also called for eliminating an early-retirement incentive program for teachers. Goedde called for funding improvements in administrative evaluation of teachers and said, “Technology money needs to be sent to districts, for computer devices, wireless networks and professional development.”

House endorses ‘do not call’

There was no debate at all in the House as HB 55, making changes to the rules for Idaho’s “do not call” list, passed on a 65-5 vote. The measure would lift the current ban on telephone companies making solicitation calls to their existing customers if they’re on the list; under the bill, those companies could call those customers, but if the customers ask them to stop, they must or they face penalties including a $500 fine. The bill was sought by two phone companies, Frontier Communications and CenturyLink. It’s opposed by the Idaho attorney general’s office, which operates the current “do not call” program and reported that Idahoans are asking for fewer telephone solicitations at their homes, not more. All North Idaho House members backed the bill except Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. The measure now heads to the Senate.

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