BOISE – A new group with ties to Republican party central committees in two Idaho counties has raised more than $100,000 in the past week for campaign attacks on Idaho’s Republican governor and attorney general.
The group calling itself the Integrity in Government PAC sent mailings that were sharply critical of Gov. Butch Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to every registered Republican in the state. The PAC also has a website criticizing Otter and calling for his defeat in Idaho’s primary on Tuesday.
Lee Ann Callear, the PAC’s chair, is an Idaho Republican Party executive committee member and Region 2 chairwoman. She formed the PAC with three other central Idaho residents and Doyle Beck of Idaho Falls, who is the Bonneville County Republican Party chairman.
“We’ve never done this before,” said Callear, of Ahsahka. “I’m trying to expose some of the things that I think are corrupt in Idaho government, just like Butch Otter saying that our economy is in such good shape, and I don’t believe that.”
Since it formed in March, the PAC had raised just under $20,000, mostly from out-of-state individuals and couples, but also including $2,000 from the Idaho County Republican Central Committee and $1,700 from the Clearwater County Republican Central Committee.
Then, in the past week, the Integrity in Government PAC suddenly raised $107,000 in nine big donations, six of those from residents of the Idaho Falls area, including two-time GOP congressional candidate and longtime John Birch Society organizer Chick Heileson, and the other three from Utah and Wyoming.
“I know a lot of people,” Callear said. “They want to send it to someone who’s honest, and I do have that reputation.” She added that she hopes to “counter some of the big money that is coming from the lobbyists.”
Gary Moncrief, a Boise State University political scientist and an expert on campaign finance, said the PAC’s activity is “unusual, there’s no doubt about that. The party, state or local, usually stays out of primaries, and obviously that’s not the case.”
Moncrief noted how then-House Speaker Lawerence Denney helped steer House GOP caucus funds to PACs that opposed some Republican incumbents in the 2012 primary. Denney lost his seat as speaker partly as a result. And Moncrief pointed to an eastern Idaho senator’s efforts against fellow Republicans in the primary more than a decade ago, which led to his being temporarily stripped of his committee assignments.
But Moncrief said the Integrity in Government PAC eclipses both of those, both in dollars and by targeting top state Republican elected officials. “The central committee donating money – to my knowledge that’s unprecedented,” he said. “I don’t remember that happening in Idaho before.”
Callear said she’s been on the Idaho GOP executive committee since 2008 and has been active in Republican Party politics in Idaho for two decades. She broke with Otter after the 2008 GOP convention, when the party voted out Otter’s choice for party chairman, Kirk Sullivan, in favor of Norm Semanko.
“He has never stopped having a tantrum since,” Callear said. “This campaign season, we are in an all-out war.”