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Eye on Boise: Risch has little to say about Trump, Putin

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hand with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the end of the press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018. (Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP)
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hand with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the end of the press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018. (Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP)

Editor’s note: This has been updated to correct Rep. Mike Simpson’s statement on President Trump.

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, in line to chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next year if Republicans hold the Senate, had little to say last week about President Trump’s much-criticized summit meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin and subsequent comments.

Risch issued a two-sentence statement on Monday: “My assessment has not changed; Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election and is no friend of the United States. The United States must stand from a position of strength in our relationship with Russia and in defense of our allies and shared values.”

By contrast, the current Foreign Relations chairman, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, said he was “disappointed and saddened,” and that Trump made the United States look like a “pushover.” Corker told reporters he figured Putin was celebrating after his meetings with Trump. “He knows he gained a lot,” Corker said Monday. “I would guess he’s having caviar right now.”

Risch, who has been increasingly vocal in his support of Trump in recent months and has had numerous contacts with the president, declined a request for an interview last week on his views on Russia and the administration.

“There are a lot of moving parts right now and the senator would like to hear from a range of people before having an in-depth discussion,” his spokeswoman, Kaylin Minton, said in an email. She said his written statement “reflects his feelings about the summit and our relationship with Russia, and he just doesn’t have anything to add at this time.”

Sen. Mike Crapo pointed to a statement he issued last year, when he helped push a bipartisan sanctions bill against Russia, Iran and North Korea. “Like many Idahoans, I have also been deeply concerned by the behavior of the Russians the past few years,” Crapo’s statement said. “Under this law, major sanctions have been imposed upon Russia for its actions toward America and other nations. My view remained unchanged. We need to see actions, not words, from Russia in order to keep our relationship moving forward.”

In a Tuesday statement, Second District Rep. Mike Simpson said “I have always believed that America first does not mean America alone. We are at our strongest when we work together with our allies to counter international aggression inconsistent with our values. In response to Russian actions that run counter to our principles, Congress has spoken clearly by providing the Administration tools to hold the Kremlin accountable, tools that I hope will be utilized to their fullest extent.”

First District Rep. Raul Labrador didn’t respond to requests for comment from Idaho news media, and didn’t participate in a “Conversations with Conservatives” event Tuesday at which fellow Freedom Caucus members defended Trump. The Huffington Post reported Tuesday that Labrador said, “It was not a good day yesterday,”

Differing numbers

Of the two initiatives that have qualified for the November ballot, both of which needed at least 56,192 valid signatures of registered Idaho voters to qualify, one received considerably more than the other, but the other spent nearly three times as much per signature.

Backers of the Medicaid expansion initiative turned in 75,132 valid signatures, according to the Idaho Secretary of State’s office. According to campaign finance reports, Reclaim Idaho spent $67,055 on its volunteer signature-gathering effort, while the Fairness Project’s parallel effort with paid signature gatherers spent $547,307 on independent expenditures. That makes a total of $614,362.

Meanwhile, the Committee to Save Idaho Horse Racing gathered just more than 59,000 valid signatures, and spent $1.4 million, to qualify the initiative to legalize “historical horse racing” or “instant racing” betting machines at Idaho racetracks and off-track betting locations.

That means the racing initiative backers spent more than $23 per valid signature, while the supporters of the Medicaid initiative spent just more than $8 per valid signature.

Lopsided resources

The latest campaign finance reports for Idaho’s two congressional races show exceedingly lopsided tallies at this point, with incumbent 2nd District GOP Rep. Mike Simpson and 1st District GOP nominee Russ Fulcher far outraising their opponents and boasting many times as much cash in the bank for the fall campaign ahead.

Simpson raised $117,800 in the most recent reporting period, which ran from April 26, two weeks before the primary election, to June 30; for the election cycle to date, Simpson has raised $806,870. He reported spending $406,416, $44,039 of that in the most recent period, and ending the reporting period with $226,455 on hand.

Simpson’s Democratic challenger, Aaron Swisher, reported raising $25,909 in the most recent filing period, and $65,075 for the election cycle to date. He spent $54,024, including $20,734 in the most recent period, and came out with $11,950 cash on hand.

For the election cycle to date, Simpson reported receiving $545,900 from PACs and $260,970 from individuals; he had no debt. He even made a transfer of $50,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is described in his FEC report as a “transfer of excess campaign funds.”

Simpson’s biggest donations during the reporting period came from two PACs that gave $10,000 each, with $5,000 of that tabbed for the primary and $5,000 for the general. They were American Crystal Sugar Co. PAC in Moorhead, Minnesota, and Majority Committee PAC in Bakersfield, California.

Swisher received no PAC donations; his biggest donations during the reporting period were $5,000 from Thomas and Carol Ruth Robertson of Twin Falls and $2,700 from former Democratic gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff.

In the 1st Congressional District – an open seat, because current Rep. Raul Labrador ran unsuccessfully for governor rather than seeking re-election – Fulcher, who won the seven-way GOP primary in May, reported raising $173,770 in the most recent period and $577,499 for the election cycle to date. He’s spent $523,708, with $138,625 of that during the most recent filing period, and closed out the period with $88,192 in the bank and $35,000 in debt to himself.

Fulcher reported receiving $78,000 from PACs in the most recent period, and $95,769 from individuals, with much of that coming in directed donations from out-of-state individuals through the Club for Growth PAC. For the election cycle to date, those figures were $99,250 from PACs and $476,799 from individuals.

The Club for Growth, a national anti-tax and anti-regulation political group, also spent more than a half-million dollars on independent advertising in Idaho to boost Fulcher.

Cristina McNeil, who won the Democratic primary with 69.7 percent of the vote, reported raising $5,636 for her campaign, all within the most recent filing period; spending $2,637, and closing the period with $3,319 in cash on hand and $320 in debt.

All told – and disregarding campaign debt – Fulcher has more than 26 times as much cash on hand as McNeil. Simpson has nearly 19 times as much as Swisher.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.


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