The Legislature’s Campaign Finance Reform Interim Committee is meeting today, and the first piece of draft legislation it examined is one to close the loophole under which “The Idahoan,” a newsprint publication mailed statewide before the primary election by a political committee, endorsing candidates, qualified for an exemption from campaign finance reporting requirements as a newspaper.
Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane told the lawmakers that Idaho’s definition of an “electioneering communication,” which triggers reporting requirements, exempts newspapers unless they are “owned or controlled by a candidate or political party.” The comparable federal law says, “Owned or controlled by any political party, political committee or candidate.” The proposed change to Idaho’s law would add “political committee.”
Kane said the change “would not necessarily have changed the conclusion” the Attorney General’s office reached with regard to The Idahoan, but it would have required the office “to take a closer look,” rather than simply cite the newspaper exemption.
Members of the legislative interim committee were receptive to the proposed draft legislation. Co-Chair Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, said, “I’ve heard grumbling every day from a lot of members of the Legislature, and you know, I came to the conclusion after thinking about this, that every single thing that goes on here, if we don’t like it then it’s our fault, because we’ve not done anything about it, to be perfectly honest with you. Now is the opportunity to start the process of actually tightening up a lot of what’s wrong in the state of Idaho with respect to money in politics.”
The committee also has seven other draft bills it’ll review today, all pieces that were broken out from a larger, sweeping campaign finance reform bill the panel endorsed last year, but that didn’t gain traction in the Legislature this year. The proposed changes including requiring more frequent and more detailed campaign finance reporting in Idaho elections, and making that information more readily available to the public.
Wood said, “I would say this: We made an attempt to do some things last year that didn’t get very far. I think we should all kind of review why they didn’t get very far and what the impediments were to that. I think, though, that the last election cycle has shown us that we really have a bunch of work to do. Because in our election process, I think the No. 1 thing we’re looking for is integrity, and the ability to make sure that money can be tracked and followed.”
“How we can get to a process that has integrity in it?” Wood asked. “Because at this point in time, I think our process has more holes in it than a good all-clad colander does, and I think the last election cycle proved that.”
Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, who co-chairs the panel with Wood, said, “What I’ve heard from the folks out there is that they would like to see transparency for all, not just transparency for some who follow the rules. And if we have rules in campaigning, then we need to make sure that they’re followed. There’s been a concern about people coming in to buy Idaho with large amounts of money. We’ve been discovered, we know that. … Maybe there’s some folks that feel that they can get an upper hand or take control of the Idaho election process. We want to make sure that they have to follow the same rules that our people who work here in the state have to follow.”
I’ll have a full story later today on the committee’s work today, which is scheduled to run until noon.