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Eye on Boise: Less sun will shine on campaign finances

Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney is less than enthusiastic about a resolution passed by the Idaho Republican Party central committee at its summer meeting last weekend calling for loosening campaign finance reporting requirements under Idaho’s Sunshine Law.

”If they ask my advice, I would say leave it alone,” Denney said. “I’d like to see more transparency. I’d like to know where all the money comes from.”

The state GOP passed three of its seven proposed resolutions at its meeting in Idaho Falls; besides the Sunshine Law proposal, the other two that passed were one calling for use of the Bible in public schools in Idaho, and another calling for an investigation of the U.S. Forest Service for not giving more deference to local county commissioners in revising a Panhandle forest management plan. Rejected resolutions included one to reopen the closed GOP primary election, and another calling for a “top-two” primary in Idaho.

The resolution regarding the Sunshine Law, citing burdens on “volunteer treasurers,” calls for easing financial disclosure requirements for political committees or PACs by exempting them from reporting or itemizing the sources of contributions of less than $200; the current reporting threshold is $50. Under current law, that $50 reporting threshold applies to all donations, whether to candidates, political committees or PACs.

The GOP measure also calls for raising the reporting threshold for expenditures from $25 to $100; and exempting party committees from falling under the reporting law at all if they raise less than $20,000 in a year; that figure currently is $5,000.

Denney, who didn’t attend the meeting, said raising the reporting threshold actually wouldn’t save treasurers any work. That’s because volunteer treasurers already have to keep track of all donations, no matter their size, in case, for example, someone gives $40 and then later gives the same amount several more times within the same year – thus exceeding reporting thresholds.

“The reality is, you have to keep track of it,” he said.

Idaho’s Sunshine Law was enacted by a voter initiative in 1974; it passed with 77.6 percent of the vote.

“As far as transparency, I don’t think it needs to be raised – I think $50 is OK,” Denney said. “I don’t think it’s that big a deal for people to report.”

Falling marble in Capitol …

A surprising sight in the east wing corridor of the state Capitol last week: A 2-foot slab of marble wainscoting trim lay smashed on the floor in many pieces, near a child, the assistant director of a local day care center and a Capitol security officer. It turns out the marble unexpectedly crashed to the ground at the touch of a 5-year-old girl – a troubling prospect. This same solid marble trim runs along both sides of the entire east and west wing corridors in the newly renovated Capitol; it’s common for folks deep in conversation in the Capitol hallways to rest their elbows on it.

Brandy Turner, assistant director of New Horizon Academy, brought about 33 kids, ages 5 to 8, to the Capitol for a self-guided tour, and the youngsters stopped off to use the restrooms in the lower-level east wing. While some were waiting for the others out in the hallway, two 5-year-old girls reached their hands up to the small marble ledge of the wainscoting, each on a separate section.

“We heard this big crash,” Turner said, as one of the sections crashed to the ground.

Fortunately, neither child was hurt, but “they both kind of jumped,” Turner said. “One started crying.”

The $120 million Capitol renovation was completed in 2010 on time and under budget to great acclaim; it opened up large new public hearing rooms and fully renovated the historic building. But just last month, the state agreed to a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice to make $400,000 worth of modifications to bring the renovated Capitol into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The falling trim adds a new chapter to the story.

Jennifer Pike, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration, said the incident prompted an immediate investigation.

“We are actively assessing that piece of marble that fell,” she said. An initial check showed no other pieces are loose.

Fulcher endorses Crapo

Former state Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who ran unsuccessfully against Gov. Butch Otter in the GOP primary last year as Otter sought his third term as governor, has endorsed GOP U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo for re-election. He said he believes Crapo will work “to eliminate debt, thwart terrorism, advance the free market (and) protect the traditional American family.”

Crapo welcomed the endorsement from Fulcher, who drew 43.6 percent of the primary vote against Otter in 2014.

Staff writer Betsy Z. Russell blogs on Eye on Boise at www.spokesman.com/boise. Russell can be reached at betsyr@spokesman.com or (208) 336-2854. Follow her on Twitter, @BetsyZRussell.