Writings and observations

Idaho isn’t ground zero for congressional campaign money. Its media markets are relatively small – political advertisers get more for the dollar in the Gem State – and its races aren’t ordinarily high-spending. When they are, spending levels aren’t always indicative of much. In 2010, Democratic 1st District incumbent Walt Minnick outspent Republican challenger Raul Labrador by about three and a half to one, and lost by a large margin. Money isn’t all. Often, though, people place their bets on prospective winners.

This year’s two Idaho U.S. House races offer an occasionally surprising overview of the landscape.

The Federal Elections Commission has a much-improved web site (at fec.gov) listing campaign finance disclosures, but most of what follows comes from the Center for Responsive Politics, at www.opensecrets.org. It is clear and well-organized, and easy to follow.

In Idaho’s first district, Labrador still hasn’t raised as much as he did in his (in the context) modestly funded campaign two years ago; he has (as of June 30, the date reflected in all these amounts) raised $551,568, and spent about two-thirds of it. Democratic challenger Jim Farris has raised $37,388, and has spent about two-thirds of that.

In the second district, Republican incumbent Mike Simpson has raised $955,983 and spent the bulk of it. Democrat Nicole Lefavour has raised $156,016 and disbursed less than a quarter.

Where did the money come from? The pairs of candidates from party rather than from district look most alike. None of the Idaho candidates is “self-financing,” or running the campaign out of personal funds; both are raising what they spend. Close to half of Labrador’s money comes from political action committees – PACs. Nearly all the rest ($271,274), all but a sliver, comes from what OpenSecrets calls “large contributions.” Simpson’s picture is similar – nearly two-thirds ($593,352) coming from PACs, and the bulk of the remainder ($302,128) from “large contributions.” Less than a tenth of donations for either candidate come from “small contributions.”

But the big contributors are different. In Labrador’s case, four gave $10,000 each. One of those is nationally well-known Koch Industries – the well-known Koch brothers Charles and David. (They were not among the top contributors to Simpson, though.) The others were Auld Investments of Boise, the Every Republican is Crucial PAC and LCF Enterprises. Simpson’s $10K-and-up top contributors were different: The increasingly controversial Monsanto Company (his top contributor, at $13,750), the Associated General Contractors, California Dairies, Lockheed Martin, the Potlatch Corporation and – get a load of this – the National Education Association. An eclectic group.

And the Democrats? They’re more reliant on small contributors, but not entirely. Farris got about a fifth of his money from PACs (the International Association of Fire Fighters gave $3,000), and about half of his money overall from “large contributions” (the New England Patriots was among them); the rest were small. LeFavour actually got even less from PACs, only $2,900. Of her funds, 55% was from large contributions (Microsoft Corporate was the largest, at $5,000, and Wells Fargo second at $2,500), and nearly all the rest from small givers.

What does all this tell you? It should give you some insight about who’s friendly with, and has strong relations with, who. And that tells you something about what these people do, or would do, in office.

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Idaho Idaho column