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Eye On Boise

Proposed ban on campaign fundraising during legislative sessions sparks debate

After much discussion, lawmakers on the Legislature’s interim working group on campaign finance reform have agreed to explore legislation to ban campaign contributions from lobbyists or PACs during the legislation session – both to incumbent lawmakers and to candidates for the Legislature. The proposal stirred up plenty of concern, however – particularly when it wasn’t clear whether the measure would also ban contributions from individuals.

Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, said, “I’m very concerned that this is going to distinctly benefit an incumbent, because some people may not decide to run until the legislative session starts,” or may even be inspired to run by something that happens during the session. “I didn’t run for this seat until January, after the session started,” Dixon said. “So I would not have been able to have any kind of campaign material or any other efforts to gain the seat.”

“This does not limit spending your own money,” said Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, co-chair of the panel.

“It limits spending somebody else’s money,” retorted Rep. John VanderWoude, R-Nampa.

House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said, “I think that an incumbent has a tactical, positional and monetary advantage going into almost every election. And a challenger goes in with none of those things. … And if you curtail the fundraising from January through March, you basically allow a challenger to raise money against the incumbent for two months before the election. And to echo Rep. Dixon’s belief, that actually sets the incumbent up for even more success. And I wish us all success, I do, honestly. However, I don’t think that that’s fair.”

Lodge countered that when challengers back in lawmakers’ home districts raise funds and campaign hard during the session, it’s “very unfair to incumbents who are already working hard during the session, I believe especially to those who live in the further parts of the state, who cannot make it back every day or every night for activities that are going on.”

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, the panel’s House co-chair, said he made the proposal to try to write into statute the “unwritten rule” that lawmakers don’t fundraise during legislative sessions, and included challengers because of “grousing” from lawmakers that their challengers raise money when they can’t. He said he’d support refining the proposal to make clear that it regards only contributions from lobbyists and PACs – not individual contributions or expenditures of the candidate’s own personal funds. “It’s very narrowly tailored, and we could narrow it even more,” he said.

Wood said he’d bring back another draft in the future for the working group to “at some point have thumbs up or thumbs down.”

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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