BOISE – Coeur d’Alene Sen. Mary Souza’s attempt to extend campaign finance reporting requirements to all elected offices or ballot measures in Idaho, at all levels of government, was defeated in a Senate committee on Monday.
The bill, which included an emergency clause making it effective immediately if it passed, would have required the new reporting in this year’s elections, including a controversial recall attempt now under way in the state’s largest school district just west of Boise.
It drew opposition from the Idaho School Boards Association and the state’s associations of cities, counties and highway districts, all of whom said there’s no problem now, and the imposition of reporting requirements on tiny government entities would be a paperwork burden and a disincentive for people to run for those unpaid posts.
“We don’t know if there are problems, because there hasn’t been any reporting,” Souza told the Senate State Affairs Committee. “Will it cause some level of inconvenience? Yes it will. But is it worth it to increase voter confidence and participation in our election system? I believe it is.”
The first-term GOP senator said, “Our citizens deserve to know that sources of support and influence for candidates and ballot measures that are asking for their vote.”
Currently, there are reporting requirements in Idaho for all state elections and for some local elections, including local city elections in cities with populations of more than 5,000; and school district elections in districts with more than 500 students. The school districts just came under the reporting law last year, under a bill that Souza also sponsored.
Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, said, “Our biggest concern relates to the timing of this bill. ISBA is disheartened that this legislation is brought back again this year.” She said last year, her group “came to agreement with the sponsor” to exempt school districts with fewer than 500 students. “We have not yet had an election,” she said. “As such we don’t know if the current law is working, and would simply like the opportunity to see if it could.”
Souza resisted suggestions that the bill include a threshold, requiring reporting only after a certain dollar amount is raised or spent.
“We don’t know what we don’t know,” she said. If someone has raised more or less than that threshold and doesn’t report, she said, “There’s no way to prove that. … So you’re going just totally off of good faith.”
Under the bill, SB 1299, even candidates or ballot measures with no campaign funds would have to report, saying they’d raised nothing. Violations would be misdemeanors punishable by fines and jail terms.
Dan Bloxsom of the Idaho Association of Counties questioned “the benefit that we’re getting for the cost that this bill would require … to collect a lot of reports with zeros and hound down the candidates.”
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