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Wednesday, July 8, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Initiative proposes sweeping changes to Idaho’s campaign finance laws

BOISE – Lobbyists would be prohibited from giving lawmakers pricey gifts and businesses with state contracts would face strict rules when making campaign contributions under a proposed citizens initiative that could make the ballot in November.

Holli Woodings, a former Democratic state lawmaker from Boise and former candidate for Idaho secretary of state, who is chairing the initiative campaign, said signature gatherers around the state have gathered the nearly 48,000 signatures necessary to make the November ballot.

But they’re still gathering more, she said, with a goal of going 40 percent over that mark, to compensate for any signatures that aren’t found to be valid.

“We’ve put about $100,000 into signature gathering at this point,” Woodings said, with signature gatherers in locations including Boise, Kuna, Meridian, Nampa, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls and Pocatello.

The last day for signature gathering is April 30; not only does the effort need nearly 48,000 valid signatures, it also must gather signatures from 6 percent of the number of those who voted in the last presidential election in each of 18 legislative districts.

“It’s a complicated formula,” Woodings said. “It’s definitely not easy to get something on the ballot.”

Woodings said the effort is being funded by local and national organizations and individual donors. She’s not releasing their names yet, but said all will be listed in the group’s first campaign finance report, which is due seven days before the state’s May 17 primary election.

The initiative is one of five being run in states around the nation, in coordination with Every Voice, a Washington, D.C., organization founded about 20 years ago that focuses on campaign finance reform and works to “give everyday people a bigger voice in politics.” Woodings said Idaho’s initiative, developed after polling and outreach about which changes Idahoans want, is most similar to one that’s also being proposed in Arkansas.

“I’ve been both kind of an insider in the political process in Idaho, and also a bit of an outsider in a lot of ways,” Woodings said, “and I’ve really seen how much influence money has in Idaho politics.”

Among the proposed changes:

  • Anyone doing business with the state in the past two years through a contract that could cost the state $250,000 or more would be prohibited from donating to candidates or political committees. The prohibition extends to corporate board members, officers, managers, owners, lobbyists and their spouses or children.
  • All gifts to state lawmakers of more than $50 from a lobbyist in a year, including meals, entertainment and lodging, would be banned.
  • Limits on contributions to candidates and political committees in each election cycle would be cut in half.
  • Penalties for campaign finance violations would more than double; big violations, involving more than $25,000, could bring felony penalties.
  • All campaign finance reports would be required to be submitted electronically, and posted immediately online in machine-readable, sortable form. Also, employers would have to be identified for donors who give more than $50.
  • Idaho would get a “revolving door” law for the first time, banning paid lobbying within one year after leaving a public office or appointed position. Violations would be a felony.

“One of the things I realized as a legislator is that the revolving door is just sort of business as usual,” Woodings said. “Why it should change is because we have people serving in the public interest, you’re there doing your duty as a public servant, and then when you’re done, you can make major financial gain based on that service.”

Woodings said people could use their experience in public service in their future private work – just not for one year after leaving the public office.

Woodings said she’s “optimistic” that the effort will gather enough valid signatures to put the measure on the November ballot.

The restrictions on contributions from state contractors came in direct response to concerns about recent big, failed state contracts in Idaho, Woodings said, and big campaign donations from the firms involved.

“We’ve had some issues recently in Idaho with public contractors who do give a large amount of money to elected officials, and then those contractors have been found to not be working in the public interest,” she said.

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