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Eye On Boise

Hayden man pushes campaign finance initiative, despite review saying it’s unconstitutional

A 75-year-old Hayden man is pushing ahead with a campaign finance ballot initiative that he personally wrote and is sponsoring, even after a review by the Idaho Attorney General’s office found it unconstitutional. Bob Perry, who turns 76 in January, said he wasn’t swayed by the five-page legal opinion penned by longtime Deputy Attorney General Michael Gilmore, which found that the proposed initiative violates the First Amendment. “He gives all the citings of all these things. But to me, doing it from my standpoint, what they have done is an abridge to our form of government, and that is the problem this country is in,” Perry declared.

His measure would remove all of Idaho’s current limits on campaign contributions, and instead allow only people who are constituents of the office being sought – residents of a legislative district, for example, or residents of the state for a statewide office – to donate to a candidate.

“Government is, in reality, representatives and their related constituents. That to me is what government is,” said Perry, a retiree who spent a career working with mainframe computers and ran three times for state or congressional office in Pennsylvania and Maryland. “Anything that abridges that, changes it in any way, would be unconstitutional in my opinion,” he said.

Perry said he’s been thinking about the concept for years. “I’m sitting there watching TV one day and bang, it hit me in the head: Unabridged. That was the key word,” he said. “That is our government. It needs to be unabridged, and we have ruined it.”

Perry faces formidable odds even to getting his initiative on the ballot. “Of course I would need unbelievable support to get the 47,000 signatures,” he said. He has until April 30 to gather the required signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot; you can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

Gilmore cited an array of cases, including a 1998 9th Circuit court decision that invalidated an Oregon initiative banning donations from out-of-district residents. “This constitutional analysis is not complete; further analysis would only identify more First Amendment problems,” Gilmore wrote. “There does not seem to be any way to preserve the proposed initiative’s goal in a constitutional manner.” Attorney General’s reviews are required for Idaho ballot initiatives, but the sponsors are free to ignore them if they choose. They do run the risk, however, that if their measure passed, it could be overturned in court.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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