The Senate’s leadership committee on Monday endorsed legislation imposing limits on contributions to state candidates that Democrats now claim are too high and activists maintain are meaningless.
The 7-2 vote by the State Affairs Committee came several hours after the House State Affairs Committee defeated a much harsher limit that prohibited any contributions from corporations, political action committees, unions and political parties.
“The public wants campaign finance reform,” Senate Republican Floor Leader Jim Risch of Boise said. “If we’re going to have a bill this year, this is the bill that’s going to get a consensus.”
The measure limits contributions per primary and general election to $1,000 for legislative candidates and $5,000 for statewide candidates. The state political parties can contribute twice those limits. The state cannot restrict contributions for issues or congressional campaigns.
David Bobzien of United Vision for Idaho warned the committee that limits would only create new ways for contributors to funnel money to candidates.
He maintained that the bill “does little more than score political points” while eventually fueling public cynicism about politics once it fails to reduce the amount of cash in campaigns.
The proposal takes off from Gov. Phil Batt’s proposal for essentially half that amount - a position that Democrats have now adopted and that Risch called nothing but political posturing. The lower limit of $500 per campaign in legislative races has run into some legal questions about squelching free expression rights through political activism.
The proposal, which now goes to the full Senate for action, also prohibits candidates from converting campaign funds to their personal use, requires independent expenditures to be reported before ands after elections and requires organizations benefiting from member checkoffs to reconfirm member support for political use of their money annually.
The Idaho Education Association objected because it would void its financing scheme and raised questions about the provision’s legality.
Campaign finance records for the 1994 campaign - the last to include statewide offices as well as the Legislature - shows just a fraction of the nearly $7 million contributed by 11,600 donors to the 199 state candidates would have been affected.
Had the Senate bill been in effect, 97 contributions to 47 candidates would have had to be reduced by $434,000.
Even under Batt’s original limits, which Democrats indicated they would press in some form, 187 contributions to 71 candidates would have been cut by $734,000. Thirty-seven of those candidates lost.
Democratic Caucus Chairman Clint Stennett of Ketchum tried unsuccessfully to convince the GOP majority to at least allow the full Senate to vote on lowering the limits.
Before the House committee killed his bill, Rep. Jim Stoicheff pleaded with members to make political history.
“Idaho should be a shining example of cleanness in politics,” the Sandpoint Democrat said.
He proposed that campaign contributions made by individual citizens only would be legal.
Stoicheff said the move was necessary to keep down the ever-growing price of running for office.
“That’s a hell of a lot of money and the people in my part of the state don’t have that kind of money,” Stoicheff said.
Many on the committee didn’t agree.
“It (the bill) didn’t make sense,” said Rep. Twila Hornbeck, R-Grangeville. “I think PACs are not bad. They are people, and for us to discriminate against them is a little bit ridiculous.”
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Associated Press Staff writer Matt Pember contributed to this report.
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