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Eye on Boise: Idaho investigating possible campaign finance violations

The secretary of state’s office will investigate an apparent attempt to evade campaign finance limits by Idaho Falls businessman Doyle Beck, who gave a series of $1,000 contributions to legislative candidate M.C. “Chick” Heileson from six related companies that Beck owns.

“We’re going to look at it,” Chief Deputy Idaho Secretary of State Tim Hurst said Friday.

Idaho’s Sunshine Law was amended in 2006 to apply the contribution limits to a legislative candidate to any individual’s or corporation’s aggregate contributions from related companies, unions or other entities. The limit is $1,000 per primary or general election.

Hurst said Beck’s contributions are the type of activity that was foreclosed by the change. The purpose, he said, was to stop people from flaunting the limits by donating from entities all controlled by the same person.

The bill that changed the rules was proposed by then-Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, and passed both the House and Senate unanimously. It was signed into law on March 11, 2006, by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.

The bill’s statement of purpose said, “The purpose of this legislation is to amend the Sunshine Law to clarify that campaign contributions from affiliated entities be aggregated for the purposes of contribution limits.” “Contribution limits are meaningless if splinter groups are each allowed a separate contribution limit.”

The amendment was proposed after eastern Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot made campaign contributions from an array of related divisions of his company, Melaleuca, to Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s re-election campaign in 2002; that year, Melaleuca spent more than $50,000 on campaign contributions to Wasden and attack ads against his opponent. VanderSloot was outspoken about the tactic, telling the Lewiston Tribune in November 2002, “If I could figure out a legal way to give Larry Wasden more money, I would do it.”

Other firms around the state began following suit; by the next election for statewide officials in 2006, the practice was illegal.

Hurst said he can’t say much about the Beck-Heileson case right now.

Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public TV’s “Idaho Reports” reported on Friday morning that Heileson, a candidate for the Legislature from eastern Idaho, had filed a campaign finance report showing Beck gave Heileson $1,000 each from six companies Beck owns: BRP Gem Lake Harbor Inc., Bingham Development Co. LLC, Lincoln Land Co. LLC, BECO Construction, Phenix of Idaho and JBC Construction. The companies also share addresses, Davlin reported.

Beck and Heileson are scheduled to appear in court on May 18, the day after the primary election, on misdemeanor criminal charges of campaign finance violations. Those accusations stem from a $12,000 contribution Heileson made to the Integrity in Government Political Action Committee in May 2014. He originally claimed he was giving his own money. This spring, however, he told state investigators that he didn’t have enough, so Beck loaned him part of it and he later worked it off in trade.

Beck, who is the Bonneville County GOP chairman, and Heileson, a former GOP congressional candidate, are charged with concealing the source of a campaign contribution.

Late Friday, after news reports appeared on the websites of both Idaho Public TV and The Spokesman-Review, Heileson filed an amended campaign finance report, removing four of the $1,000 donations from Beck’s companies, indicating he’d given that money back, but keeping two others in. That would still be double the allowable limit.

Hurst said, “I’ll be contacting him on Monday to find out what’s going on.”

Tourism up

At last week’s Idaho Conference on Recreation and Tourism in Moscow, state Commerce Director Megan Ronk reported that lodging tax revenues – a key indicator for tourism, Idaho’s third-largest industry – are on track to hit a record high this year of more than $10 million, and are up 13 percent over last year.

Ronk said more growth is expected, as 1,200 new hotel and motel rooms are set to open statewide by the end of 2017.