New conflict-of-interest disclosure legislation – which would require filings for all candidates and office-holders, disclosing their occupation and employer and other potential conflicts of interest, but not income – was introduced in the House State Affairs Committee today with just two “no” votes; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. The vote came one month after the same committee refused to introduce legislation proposed by its chairman, Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, and unanimously endorsed by a bipartisan interim committee, to give Idaho its first personal financial disclosure requirements for public officials; Idaho currently is one of just two states with no such requirements.
“This is not income disclosure,” said Rep. Dustin Manwaring, R-Pocatello, sponsor of the new bill. While it closely resembles Loertscher’s earlier proposal, all references to income and financial disclosure have been removed, as has a clause requiring disclosure of a spouse’s occupation and employer. And rather than annual filings, candidates would have to file once per term, though they also would be required to update the information as needed.
The new bill would require candidates and office-holders at the state, legislative, county and city level to file forms with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office, which would go up on the office’s planned new statewide campaign finance disclosure database, disclosing any potential conflicts of interest. That’s defined as “a potential action that may be taken by a regulated officeholder that the officeholder reasonably believes may cause direct financial or personal benefit or detriment to the officeholder, a member of the officeholder’s immediate family or an entity” in which the candidate or officeholder is an owner or officer. It also would specifically require disclosure of the candidate or officeholder’s occupation, employer and job title; the name and description of entities in which they’re owners or officers; and the name and description of any entity in which the officeholder directly holds stocks or bonds valued at more than $5,000.
Then, the bill would require officeholders to formally declare any conflict of interest that’s not already listed on the form before taking an official action. That’s how legislative rules handle conflicts of interest now; they must be declared before a vote, but don’t stop a legislator from voting on the matter.
The two votes against introducing the new bill today came from Reps. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, and Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens. The motion to introduce the bill and allow a full hearing on it was made by Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, who earlier opposed Loertscher’s bill.
Asked why she made the motion, Scott told Eye on Boise, “I believe in transparency.”
Giddings peppered Manwaring with questions about the bill, and said she was concerned that it would cause her, as a self-employed contract pilot, to have to update her filing every time she flies for a new customer, which she said could be every week. Manwaring said she’d only have to report that she’s a self-employed contract pilot, not disclose every customer for whom she flies.
Giddings also said, “If you’re declaring that there’s a potential conflict, that would open that individual up to further investigation of some sort. Would private information then have to become public, because you’re declaring there might be a conflict?”
Manwaring said as far as investigations, “I don’t think it changes anything. Somebody could investigate a conflict that we declare right now under Rule 38. I don’t think it changes that at all.”
Giddings also questioned why the definition of conflict of interest included benefit or detriment to the officeholder’s immediate family. Manwaring said, “It doesn’t go on the form. You would have to disclose that you have a conflict … like we do under Rule 38. I just did one this week, because my dad’s a county commissioner.” He made the disclosure before voting on a bill involving county commissioners.
Giddings also said she’s heard of employees being fired from their jobs because their employer found out they attended a political meeting. “I’m curious, if people are knowing everybody that you’re working for, some of the retaliation impact that could happen there,” she said.
Manwaring said the issue comes down to “the balance of private vs. public interest.” When someone runs for public office, he said, “I think that’s the balance. It’s the public interest that we’re trying to get out there.”
Manwaring said state representatives still likely would make Rule 38 conflict declarations before votes, but he thought the bill would reduce the number of times those are needed.
Giddings made a substitute motion to return the bill to its sponsor rather than introduce and allow a hearing on it, but only she and Barbieri voted in favor of that motion. Scott’s motion then passed with just Giddings and Barbieri dissenting.
On the earlier financial disclosure bill, only Loertscher and the panel’s two Democrats voted in favor of introducing the interim committee’s bill and allowing a hearing.