BOISE – Idaho candidates who don’t file campaign disclosure reports on time should face steeper penalties and the state should take a more active role in enforcing those fines, a group of state lawmakers agreed on Monday.
“If you want to be a public servant, you need to be aware of the rules and the filing date,” said state Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, a Republican from Huston and co-chair of the legislative interim panel studying the state’s campaign finance laws over the summer.
“It needs to be cut and dry,” she said.
While lawmakers on the panel discussed a long list of proposed bills for the 2019 session, a large chunk of Monday’s meeting was devoted to how harshly the state should enforce fines for late campaign finance disclosure reports.
Idaho law already allows for the state to impose a $50-a-day fine on candidates who miss the campaign finance deadline. However, the measure is rarely enforced.
According to Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, the state’s top election office has held off from implementing fines because the top priority is to get the report available to the public –preferably on time – rather than collect a fine.
Yet Denney’s system has faced scrutiny after two statewide candidates failed to file post-primary election campaign finance reports on time: Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra, a Republican who is running for a second term, and GOP lieutenant governor nominee Janice McGeachin.
Neither Ybarra nor McGeachin were hit with a fine but instead received warnings from Denney’s office. The two eventually posted the reports, which included key information on last-minute campaign spending and donations, after Denney’s office contacted their campaigns.
Meanwhile, Denney’s office has implemented just two fines so far this year. The first was against Democratic legislative candidate Alanna Brooks, who was fined $400 for failing to file any report during the primary campaign despite multiple attempts by the state to reach her. The second was a $50 fine against the Idaho Democratic Latino Caucus.
Denney says the new legislative proposal signed off by the panel on Monday would change the law to say fines “shall” be imposed by his office rather than making it optional.
The proposal also tweaks the fine amount. Candidates who fail to turn a disclosure report on time would face a $50-a-day fine for the first five days, but then the fine would jump to $250-a-day for anything after that.
“The whole idea is that disclosure is done in a timely manner, what we want is everyone to file on time,” said state Rep. Fred Wood, a Republican from Burley and also co-chair of the committee.
Even though the committee agreed to back the proposal, there’s no guarantee the Republican-dominant Legislature will also welcome the reform during the upcoming legislative session. Idaho lawmakers have previously resisted major changes to the state’s campaign sunshine laws despite receiving criticism from advocates urging more transparency in the state’s campaign process. For example, the committee failed to pass any of the proposals drafted last summer during the 2018 session.
Lawmakers will gather in Boise in January.
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