The Senate State Affairs Committee held an informational hearing this morning on SB 1337, the latest version of legislation proposed by an interim working group on campaign finance reform. The bill, co-sponsored by Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney and Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane, recasts the earlier House version of the bill to make it easier to read and see where the changes are from current law, and also softens some of the new requirements in the earlier bill. Overall, the measure requires more frequent and more detailed campaign finance reporting, extends reporting requirements to local elections, and requires entities doing independent campaign expenditures and out-of-state entities donating large sums to Idaho PACs or candidates to identify the source of the money.
“I think this is an easy way for us to raise our transparency scores nationally,” McGrane told the senators. “Our efforts here are not to be punitive to those who make innocent mistakes. … The purpose of the Sunshine Law is to make this information easily accessible so we know what’s going on in the state with regards to money.”
Denney held up a copy of Idaho’s bright-yellow Sunshine Law Manual. “This disclosure manual is pretty small, but I would challenge any of you to open it up and not have a question about what it means,” he told the committee. “I would like to have this simplified so that, No. 1, you didn’t have to call me and ask what it means, and No. 2, the answer is the same, no matter who you talk to in the office.”
“It should be: If you are expending money to influence the outcome of an election, it should be reported, period,” Denney said. “But the devil is in the details.”
Denney said the bill still needs more work; yesterday, a formal legislative interim committee was appointed to meet between now and next year’s legislative session to continue the work of last year’s legislative working group. Like the working group, it will be co-chaired by Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, and Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley.
The proposal includes centralizing all campaign finance reports on a single, searchable database managed by the Idaho Secretary of State’s office, including those from local elections. Those running campaigns at any level of government would be subject to reporting requirements, but only once they’ve raised $500. It also expands the reporting requirements to include local recall and special elections.
The bill’s effective date is July 1, 2019.
“Fred and I could’ve pushed this through,” Lodge said after the meeting. Instead, she said, they chose to wait and keep refining and working on the bill. “I want to get everybody on board,” she said.
Denney has requested $1.2 million in his budget next year to upgrade the campaign finance reporting system and allow the new statewide, searchable database, among other changes. Although JFAC initially rejected the request, the joint budget committee reconsidered, and approved the expenditure.