BOISE – A 75-year-old Hayden man is pushing ahead with a ballot initiative to reform campaign finance that he wrote and is sponsoring, even after a review by the Idaho Attorney General’s office found it unconstitutional.
Bob Perry said he wasn’t swayed by the five-page legal opinion penned by longtime Deputy Attorney General Michael Gilmore, which found that the proposed initiative violates the First Amendment.
His measure would remove all of Idaho’s current limits on campaign contributions, and instead allow only people who are constituents of the office being sought – residents of a legislative district, for example, or residents of the state for a statewide office – to donate to a candidate.
“Government is, in reality, representatives and their related constituents,” said Perry, a retiree who spent a career working with mainframe computers and ran three times for state or congressional office in Pennsylvania and Maryland. “Anything that abridges that, changes it in any way, would be unconstitutional in my opinion,” he said.
Perry said he’s been thinking about the concept for years. “I’m sitting there watching TV one day and bang, it hit me in the head: Unabridged. That was the key word,” he said. “That is our government. It needs to be unabridged, and we have ruined it.”
Perry first tried to file his initiative with the Idaho Secretary of State in April. “They sent it back to me, because it wasn’t in the right legislative form – I had to learn that,” he said.
He also had to collect 20 signatures of people backing his bid. “Everybody I talked to said this is really simple and it’s right,” he said. “Had we followed this as a rule in our government, we would not be in the mess we’re in today.”
He said a wealthy person from Coeur d’Alene, for example, should have no business donating money to a candidate for mayor of Hayden or Rathdrum. But for statewide candidates, his measure would allow any state resident to donate unlimited amounts, while blocking corporate, party or political action committee contributions directly to candidates.
Gilmore, in the legal review, cited an array of cases in ruling that the initiative is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was one; it said corporations have free speech rights and political donations are political speech.
Plus, Gilmore pointed to two federal appeals court decisions specifically rejecting limits on campaign contributions from out of state or outside the district.
Attorney General’s reviews are required for Idaho ballot initiatives, but the sponsors are free to ignore them if they choose. They do run the risk, however, that if their measure passed, it could be overturned in court.
Perry faces formidable odds even to getting his initiative on the ballot. “Of course I would need unbelievable support to get the 47,000 signatures,” he said, noting that he’d also have to meet requirements for signatures from 18 legislative districts. “Yeah, that’s a lot,” he said, “but that’s not to say it can’t be done. … I really, truly believe this is what the founders and drafters meant when they created this form of government.”
Said Perry: “I will be hitting the Twitter to just throw it out there.” He has until April 30 to gather the required signatures, to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.
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