BOISE – Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo is flush with campaign cash as he seeks a fourth six-year term, with more than $4.2 million in the bank and a record fundraising haul in the past quarter that eclipsed any reporting period since he was first elected to the Senate in 1998.
“It is a privilege to serve the people of this great state and very humbling to see the tremendous support we have received,” Crapo said in a statement. “I have always put Idaho first and will continue fighting in Washington, D.C., for our conservative values.”
But the folks filling Crapo’s campaign coffers for the record fundraising quarter are largely from out of state – only 8 percent of the money he raised came from individuals in Idaho. Just over half came from PACs, with financial services and insurance interests dominating, and 84 percent of his individual donations came from out-of-state residents, many of them in the financial services industry.
Crapo got almost as much from Arkansas residents for his 2016 re-election bid as from Idaho residents, because 19 top executives of Stephens Inc., a single privately held investment bank in Little Rock, all donated generously. The senator serves on the Banking and Finance committees.
“The banking committee is a highly sought-after committee for a variety of reasons, many of which have to do with access to major donors,” said Boise State University political scientist emeritus Jim Weatherby.
Weatherby said it should matter to citizens who funds their lawmakers’ campaigns.
“It raises the questions about who the member of Congress is representing – the special interests and lobbies in Washington or the residents of the state of Idaho,” he said.
In addition to the 19 top Stephens executives who donated to Crapo, a former executive who now heads his own firm and another executive’s spouse also each gave $2,700.
“While we do not agree with Sen. Crapo on every vote, he does serve on two committees that deal with issues that are important to the financial services industry, the Senate banking committee and the Senate finance committee,” said Frank Thomas, spokesman for Stephens Inc. “We have visited with the senator about issues that concern our industry; he has been willing to listen. It is important to us to do what we can to assure that people like Sen. Crapo continue to have the opportunity to serve.”
Among the political action committees that gave Crapo maximum $10,000 donations were the American Bankers Association PAC; Consumer Bankers Association PAC; American Institute of CPAs AICPA; TIAA-CREF PAC, Liberty Mutual Insurance PAC; LPL Financial Corp. PAC; Investment Company Institute PAC; Metlife Inc. PAC; and MORPAC, the Mortgage Bankers Association PAC.
Some have questioned why Crapo, Idaho’s senior senator, hasn’t sought a seat on the Appropriations Committee, which writes the appropriation bills that can send money Idaho’s way for universities, transportation projects, or federal installations like the Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho or the Naval Acoustic Research Detachment on Lake Pend Oreille. Former Sen. Larry Craig, and the late Jim McClure before him, long served on the powerful appropriations panel.
Idaho’s junior senator, Jim Risch, who succeeded Craig, chose to focus elsewhere and serves on the Senate’s Intelligence, Foreign Relations, and Energy and Natural Resources committees.
Crapo’s spokesman, Lindsay Nothern, noted that when Crapo first started as a senator, Craig was on the appropriations committee. Given his seniority, it’s best for Idahoans for Crapo to stick with the same committees, Nothern said.
“So what some folks consider the next most powerful committee in the Senate is the Senate Finance Committee, because of their jurisdiction over basically a lot of government with the exception of appropriations,” Nothern said. “They’re over all the tax laws, health care, Social Security programs – they basically handle a lot of the major operations of government outside of direct appropriations.”
The banking committee – its full name is the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee – “regulates the whole financial services industry,” Weatherby said. “And there are lobbyists with loads of cash that follow all of the inner workings of that committee, and are very concerned about gaining access.”
Nothern said that industry matters to Idaho.
“Credit and lending is obviously a big part of what drives our commerce,” he said. “You can talk to anybody in the banking, finance and lending industry about their impact on jobs, credit for businesses – they’ll have a pretty strong story to tell.”
Bob Biersack, senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics, said it’s not uncommon for a senator from a small state to get more money from groups with an interest in their committee business than from their own state’s residents.
“Most members’ contributions follow fairly closely with their committee assignments, especially in the context of finance, where the people who are in that industry have lots of capital and are pretty aggressive politically,” he said. “They tend to make contributions sometimes more readily.”
Crapo’s biggest expenditures during the reporting period were for fundraising consultants.
He has no announced opposition.
“Sen. Crapo appreciates the outpouring of support he has received from fellow Idahoans, both on a volunteer basis and financially during his time in public service, and we are confident this support will continue to grow as the campaign continues,” Crapo’s campaign manager, Sarah Nelson, said in a statement.