Writings and observations

trahant

The Senate is now going through 20 hours of debate on a House Resolution 1628 to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. But the House bill was stripped of every word except the title. Now the idea is to come up with the right language to reach 50 votes (so when like the Motion to Proceed, Vice President Mike Pence can break the tie and vote yes).

The first proposal, Senate Amendment 267, had all sorts of problems on the floor. The Senate’s Parliamentarian ruled that parts of the bill did not get a score from the Congressional Budget Office and other parts violated budget rules. So 60 votes, not 50 were needed for this version to pass. But the Republican leadership wasn’t even close to 50 votes — Nine Republicans voted against it.

Including Arizona Sen. John McCain who just a few hours before said he wasn’t happy with any of the legislative proposals. Think about this. He interrupted his cancer treatment (taxpayer funded health care) then gave a stirring speech about the break down of civility in the Senate. He said he would vote against the bills as presented, and then, votes yes anyway. Quite a day. And so much for his words. I’ll admit: I thought McCain meant what he said.

Then at least McCain earned respect and praise from President Donald J. Trump. He tweeted: @SenJohnMcCain Thank you for coming to D.C. for such a vital vote. Congrats to all Rep. We can now deliver grt healthcare to all Americans!”

Now that’s something — as is the process itself.

This week’s Senate debate on TV will be exciting. Seriously. There will be many hours ahead of members speaking to an empty chamber about why the Affordable Care Act works — or why it should be repealed. (And lots of images of staff shuffling papers on camera.) Great theater, right? Then every once in a while (about the time paint dries) there will be a call for a vote and the dramatic calling of each senator’s name for a vote.

There are two main versions that will surface soon. The first is a repeal — or at least as much of a repeal as possible with 50 votes — that’s been proposed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky. That proposal has little chance.

Then later in the week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, will propose an amendment that they’re calling a “Skinny Repeal.” It would eliminate some taxes, a few more regulations, but leaves Medicaid alone. It’s supposed to be something for both moderates who want to leave Medicaid alone and for conservatives who want a repeal. Ha! And remember: If this version passes the Senate the bill will move to a conference committee with the House. That’s where the Medicaid cuts will come back. This is a phony negotiating plank.

As the debate unfolds, the Senate is in a way making the case for why we need Native Americans in the legislative process. There will be all kinds of talk about what the law does to Americans, to the poor, to taxpayers, to just about every constituent group in America. What’s really needed though is for one senator to explain about the Indian Health system and what havoc all of these proposals would wreak. One senator could say the Indian Health Service has never been fully funded, despite treaty promises, so why strip millions of dollars away. Or ask about Indian children when more than half are covered by Medicaid. Or show why Indian Country needs the jobs that have been created (and will be lost) by these proposals. Better yet: One Native Senator could use data to prove that Medicaid works.

Indian Country deserves to be in this debate. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been a key opponent of the Republican leadership’s health care legislation. It’s mostly about Medicaid. I am sure that it’s also due to her support of the Alaska Native medical system. She gets it.

But Murkowski will pay a political price for her votes, at least in a primary election. But then she’s gone through that before. And won. Not long after the Senate vote on the Motion to Proceed, the Alaska Republican Party said Murkowski abandoned them. Party chairman Tuckerman Babcock said the “repeal of Obamacare is non-negotiable.” (Funny: I feel the same way about the Senate alternatives.)

And so the party talks about possible consequences for Murkowski. Babcock said her vote put at risk new oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (would that be true) and said her Energy Committee “chairmanship could be at risk.”

And President Donald J. Trump tweeted Wednesday morning: “Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!”

So will there be punishment? I would not be so sure. Remember the Republican majority is thin. As I reported last week: Three senators switch sides and it’s a new Senate. Two are already really, unhappy. So the way to make it three is for Republicans to continue to attack their own members.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.

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Trahant

carlson

Last week Avista Utility, headquarted in Spokane, surprised many observers by announcing they were being acquired by a Canadian utility, Hydro One of Toronto, for $5.3 billion dollars. After operating independently for 128 years, they were giving up that independence.

There are two questions that immediately cry out for answers. Why now? Secondly, what’s in it for Idaho and the current customer base of 129,000 northern Idaho customers supplied with juice from Avista? The sale has to be reviewed and approved by the public utility commissions of several states and federal entities, but both parties hope the deal closes by next fall.

Here are ten key questions one hopes will be asked and explored by regulators:

1) $5.3 billion in U.S. dollars presumably?

Answer: At closing Hydro One will pay $3.4 billion in US dollars and will assume Avista debt of $1.9 billion. Currency fluctuation risk is taken by Hydro One but it is thought they are trying to fix the rate of .53 cents Canadian to every $1 US. Currently the Canadian dollar is .64 cents to the U.S.dollar.

2) What is the debt to equity ratio for financing the purchase and has Hyrdo One undertaken a subscription sale and if so did it fill rapidly or is it still being offered?

Answer: The ratio is going to be 83% debt and 17% equity. Yes, there was a subscription offering and it filled in one hour. Avista’s stock rose 24 % once the market learned of the intended purchase and is now trading at $53 a share.

3) Are there any tax advantages or write-offs for either company from the purchase or the sale?

Answer: It does not appear so, but that question may require additioanl research.
4) Does Avista chairman and ceo Scott Morris receive any additional compensation or bonus for engineering this sale?

Answer: Yes. A required filing showed that he would receive three times his average compensation in previous years which translates to approximately a $15 million dollar bonus. An additional $15 million is being set aside as a pool of money to keep key employees.

5) Avista claims communities will benefit from Avista’s commitment to philanthropy and economic development, but it offers no specifics on just what economic development it would support and as to philanthropy it claims Hydro One will double the current Avista commitment of $1 million annually to $2 million. Records indicate though that last year Avista donated $600,000. Other acquisitions of northwest utilities recently have seen philanthropy zeroed out.

Answer: The $600,000 is what the Foundation donated. Corporate giving was approximately $2 million and Hydro One has pledged to double that. In addition, Hydro One is making a one-time donation of $7 million to the Avista Foundation and has pledged to donate annually another $2 million to the Foundation.

6) Hydro One is heavily unionized. Surely both entities recognize historic differences towards unions. Is there a strategy to address this?

Answer: Both are aware and it is a work in progress.

7) Hydro One buys some electricity from government owned and operated nuclear plants. Do they have any exposure regarding disposal of wastes and storage of spent fuel rods? Do they carry any special liability coverage if something goes wrong with a nuke plant even though they are just a customer?

Answer: That is a question best directed at Hydro One. Suffice it to say Avista fully anticipates that as part of any mandated settlement a PUC will require “ring fencing” to prevent such transfers of risk or cost.

8) Hydro One will have to enter negotiations with Washington and Idaho’s public utility commissions. Given universal concern regarding global warming being exacerbated by coal burning power plants is Hydro One prepared to negotiate a phase out of the 10% of Avista’s load that comes from Colstrp? Two of the four units at Colstrip were just modernized at a cost of hundred’s of millions.

Answer: The question is not unexpected and the answer is to be determined by the negotiations. We don’t engage in speculation.

9) Does Hydro One/Avista really believe the Idaho PUC will consider its latest request for a 7.2% rate increase separate and apart from its review of this sale? Wouldn’t it be smarter to acknowledge the obvious and withdraw the request? Isn’t it a bit disingenuous in your ads to claim there will be no rate increases “as a result of this transaction?”

Answer: We believe they are totally separate items but recognize that the Idaho PUC could combine the dockets if it want to do so.

10) Does Avista still participate in the exchange of power with BPA allowed by the Northwest Power Planning Act? And will this sale have any impact on the current renegotiations with Canada on the Columbia River Coordination agreement?

Answer: Yes, and as long as the exchange is available Avista will participate.and no.

In all candor there is little specificity that answers convincingly the why now question. However, ¸there has been much activity in the market regarding utilities.The bottom line is probably a simple one in which Scott Morris and the board decided it was better to pick a partner rather than be picked off.. It is easy to predict rough sailing and tough selling ahead.but I wouldn’t bet against Scott Morris.

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Carlson

joneslogo1

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFRB) issued a rule earlier this month that prohibits financial companies from using mandatory arbitration clauses to bar group actions for redress against those companies. The rule will allow consumers to band together to sue financial firms for improper charges on bank accounts and credit cards. Presently, forced arbitration provisions in hundreds of millions of consumer finance contracts prevent group lawsuits.

In announcing the rule, CFPB Director Richard Cordray noted that “when Wells Fargo opened millions of deposit and credit card accounts without the knowledge or consent of customers, arbitration clauses in existing account contracts blocked their customers from bringing group lawsuits for the unauthorized account openings.”

While it is not feasible for an individual customer to sue for recovery of a few hundred dollars for improper activity, when thousands of them can band together to recover for the same wrongdoing it is a different story. The new rule will make it feasible for customers to recover damages for improper conduct, while also forcing the financial companies to comply with the law in future business activity.

Mandatory arbitration in the financial sector is just the tip of the arbitration iceberg. Since the 1990s, forced arbitration clauses have been added to a wide array of consumer contracts that are presented to unsuspecting customers on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

Families have been surprised when a mandatory arbitration clause prevents them from going to court when a loved one is abused in a nursing home. Such clauses are also common in contracts written by employers, medical providers, internet providers, cable companies, home builders and cruise ship operators, just to name a few.

Injured parties are deprived of the right to seek redress in impartial courts of law, to have a jury trial, and to appeal an unfair decision. Instead, they are often placed in the hands of an arbitrator who may be influenced by the prospect of getting repeat business from the defending party. This amounts to a privatization of the civil justice system and may be one of the factors that has caused a decline in civil case filings in the federal and state court systems around the country in recent years.

It should be said that arbitration is an important and efficient problem-solving mechanism where the parties stand on relatively equal ground and have knowingly agreed to arbitrate disputes rather than going to court. In past years, arbitration has primarily been resorted to in commercial disputes and works well there. The more recent and massive shift to arbitration in the consumer setting is troubling, however. Very few consumers are aware of mandatory arbitration clauses in the fine print of lengthy contracts or that by signing such contracts they are giving up the right to seek redress in court.

Congress has recognized the inequity of forced arbitration in some settings. In the Military Lending Act of 2007, mandatory arbitration was prohibited in certain loans made to service members. The Dodd-Frank bill 3 years later did away with forced arbitration in most residential mortgages. However, the new CFPB rule has been met with threats of rejection by a number of members of Congress. On the administrative side, a rule proposed last fall that would have prohibited federally-funded nursing homes from forcing arbitration on patients and their families was derailed this year.

People should not be unwittingly deprived of their right to receive justice from the court system. Voters should demand that their elected representatives oppose mandatory arbitration in consumer contracts and, instead, support amendment of the Federal Arbitration Act to do away with forced arbitration in the consumer setting.

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Jones

rainey

No, Virginia. This column is NOT about three customers of a Vegas hooker. No! At least I think not. Though I have no idea what the gentlemen above do on their own time.

No, what’s illustrated here is a scene that appears in the hall outside the Senate Majority Leader’s office several times a week. The four meet in Mitch McConnell’s suite, get their stories straight, then proceed out to the marble marsh to enlighten all of us on the important “news” of the day from the Senate Republican caucus. Which lately ain’t been much.

Most often, only the fella in the front wearing glasses is allowed to speak. The others are there as a “show of unity” by that aforementioned GOP clan. Since I’ve heard people ask who they are, I thought it might be useful information to provide some details on the “three Johns.”

First, there’s the baleful looking guy on the far left. I mean, in the picture – not politically. That’s Sen. John Barrasso, M.D. of Wyoming, third ranking Republican. Used to be an orthopedic surgeon in real life. He almost never speaks publically. But he votes. Among his positions: voted for school prayer; sponsored an anti-abortion bill making it a double homicide to kill a pregnant woman; voted against gun buyer background checks; has an “A” rating with the NRA; introduced a bill to stop EPA from limiting background carbon emissions; leading critic of anything thoughtful about climate change; urged pulling this country out of the Paris Climate Agreement; and, since 2012, has received $585,000 from the oil and gas folks.

On the far right – pictorially and politically – is Sen., John Cornyn of Texas, the majority whip. Ted Cruz’s stable mate as it were. Former Sen. Phil Gramm of that fine state quit his term early in 2002 to give Cornyn a leg up in seniority so he could get larger office space. Cute. Problem was, there had been a Senate policy on the books for more than 20 years forbidding that. Sort of gave his fellow senators a graphic example of how little either of them knew about their job.

One of Cornyn’s more “interesting” quotes was about gay marriage: “If your neighbor marries a box turtle, that doesn’t mean it’s right. But you raise your children in a world where that union of a man and a box turtle is on the same legal footing as a man and wife.” Doesn’t that sort of cut right to the heart of the issue?

Cornyn sponsored a bill allowing police to force anyone arrested or even detained to give up samples of DNA for a central crime database. Voted for constitutional amendments outlawing gay marriage and flag burning and voted against the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 which would have expanded educational benefits for military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The third “John” is Sen. Thune of South Dakota. Maybe the brightest of the three, third ranking Republican in the Senate, considered a “comer” and has already been urged to run for President. He’s wisely refused so far. More moderate than the rest of the faces in our picture, Thune sponsored legislation to monitor the population of black-tailed prairie dogs. Guess that’s big in South Dakota. He introduced five bills to end the TARP program and has repeatedly tried to get through bills to prohibit the EPA from monitoring carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide or methane emissions in agricultural areas. Keeps losing. Blame the cows.

Thune has also challenged Facebook for having anti-conservative views. Got nowhere. But the media loved it.

So, there you are. Three Johns and a Mitch. The quartet of senior Republicans on your flat screen TV several times each week with messages of Republican unity and effective leadership. Three former lawyers and an ex-orthopedic surgeon. Now that you know a little about them, I’m sure you’ll feel more comfortable with their regular joint appearances. And that “unity” and “leadership” stuff.

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Rainey

Water rights weekly report for July 24. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

A collection of cities in northwestern Arkansas are in conflict over water rights and the use of water in the area in and around their communities. The cities involved are Gravette and Centerton (the two main contestants), with impacts reaching to Hiwasse and Bella Vista.

A shift in water use and diversion by a private user has resulted in the small city of Dayton, Wyoming, deciding it too needed to change the point of diversion for its water rights.

From a statement by the group Global Witness: “It has never been deadlier to take a stand against companies that steal land and destroy the environment. Our new report Defenders of the Earth found that nearly four people were murdered every week in 2016 protecting their land and the natural world from industries like mining, logging and agribusiness.”

How do you apportion water rights that are located underground? The point was considered in a podcast based on the marketplace.org website.

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Digests

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for July 17. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

The Idaho Supreme Court on July 18 sustained, in a 4-1 ruling, a veto by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter of a proposal to repeal the sales tax on many grocery items in the state.

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the Bear Lake Regional Commission on July 21 announced a landmark cooperative agreement today that enhances aquatic invasive species prevention efforts in the Bear Lake area.

In an effort to reduce costs and provide more efficient service to the public, the Idaho Panhandle National Forest is constructing an Interagency Natural Resource Center that will house the IPNF Supervisor’s Office, Bureau of Land Management’s Coeur d’Alene field office and local US Fish and Wildlife Service offices.

The Canadian firm Hydro One Limited on July 19 said that it planned to acquire the Northwest utility Avista for C$67 (US$53) per share in a C$6.7 billion (US$5.3 billion) all-cash transaction.

The Pocatello City Council has put its seal of approval on the effort to raise a new and official flag for the city.

PHOTO The Idaho booth at the Paris Air Show, which Idaho officials and business owners visited. Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter remarked, “I joined 11 Idaho-based aerospace companies last month in traveling to France for the International Paris Air Show. Idaho Department of Commerce officials and I helped showcase our Idaho companies’ products and innovative concepts at the Idaho Pavilion in Paris. With manufacturers, vendors and buyers from all over the world participating, the Paris Air Show was an invaluable sales and marketing opportunity for our Idaho businesses.” (photo/Governor Otter)

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Briefings

stapiluslogo1

Our justice system is going through a quiet revolution, away from what you often see on TV.

There you see disputes – from murder cases to divorces to civil money-claims lawsuits – hashed out in trials, in open court. You can’t blame the drama writers: It’s the entertaining way.

But if you go to watch the action at your local courthouse, you won’t see much of it, at least not out in the open. Compared to a generation ago, far more cases are settled away from trials, away from the courts, as a part of a deal-making process.

This comes to mind as I think about a new book (which – disclosure here – I helped publish), called Mediation Mechanisms, by Duff McKee, a retired fourth district judge who has mediated a couple of thousand or so cases. (The book is available at ridenbaughpress.com, at Amazon.com and elsewhere.) His book is about how mediation works, on a practical level.

He also writes, “When I began practicing law in the mid-1960s, it was a concession of weakness to be the first one to bring up the subject of settlement. This meant that the other lawyer had to raise the subject first if the case was to get settled. This led to bizarre communications between lawyers dying to discuss settlement without either one appearing to be the first one to utter the question, ‘Can’t we settle this?’”

Now things have changed, most especially the ballooning cost of litigation and crowded court calendars which led to more judges imploring lawyers to settle the dispute out of court, and to clients who can’t afford the public show. The costs, especially for such things as discovery, document research, expert assistance and more, can put the cost of civil action out of reach for most people.

These days, McKee said, “the settlement process is now primary in the minds of most litigators and most judges. Trial calendars with multiple settings are a fact of life, with cases stacked four to six deep, in the full expectation that five out of six scheduled cases will settle before trial.”

A few weeks ago I talked this over with a couple of long-established Boise lawyers, and they strongly agreed. One said that two or three decades ago lawyers at his firm would spend much of their time at or preparing for trial; so far this year, by contrast, only about one in ten attorneys there have undertaken even a single trial.

Another attorney I’ve known for several decades shifted several years ago from work in litigation and trials to almost exclusively working in mediation and arbitration.

As McKee said, “the civil case mediation has come of age in our system.”

That has its good points and some not so good. On the good side, settlements can lead to more compromises and to resolutions that can be fairer all around; many legal cases really aren’t all black and white, and many cry out for some answer that encourages each side to give a little. Many people may come out of the system less damaged.

The downside is that not all cases are like that, and our legal system should have a practical way to come to grips with right and wrong. Sometimes someone really should be put in the position of having to pay, and someone ought to be clearly vindicated.

Ironically, or maybe not, as we’ve moved into ever-sharper “win-lose” divisions in our politics and policy, we seem to be moving into a legal system edging toward thoughtful discussion and compromise.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

richardson

In a recent interview with Reuters, the president claimed his administration “had done more in five months than practically any president in history.”

My first reaction was to laugh. But maybe the president is right. I suppose it all depends on what he meant by “more.”

Perhaps by “more,” Trump meant he has done more to alienate and offend our long-time allies, countries like Germany, France, and Great Britain, by equivocating about his commitment to the North Atlantic alliance.

Or maybe he meant he has done more to isolate the U.S. from virtually every country on earth by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Possibly, Trump meant he has picked more unprovoked fights with major U.S. trading partners like China, Mexico, Canada, and South Korea.

And he might have meant he has done more to relinquish the U.S. role as world leader to the benefit of Russia and China.

Perhaps Trump meant he has done more to model petulant and spiteful behavior by never accepting responsibility, always blaming and often bullying others, making ridiculous excuses when things don’t go his way, and treating those who disagree with him as enemies, best dealt with by threats rather than civil discourse.

He could have meant he has done more to move the GOP further away from the once-proud legacy of Lincoln and Eisenhower and closer to the odious views of David Duke.

The president may have meant he has done more to attack the “western values” he pretends to champion by assaulting the First Amendment, attacking our independent judiciary, denigrating minority rights, and ignoring all manner of democratic (with a lower case “d”) norms.

Perchance Trump meant he has done more to dumb-down our national dialog by routinely communicating in unintelligible bursts of 140 characters.

Or perhaps he meant he has appointed more inept and ideologically extreme cabinet members, people like Betsy DeVos, Rex Tillerson, Scott Pruitt, and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions.

Presumably, Trump meant he has shown more admiration for greedy dictators who suppress dissent, blithely torturing and terrorizing their countrymen, while enjoying the spoils of graft and corruption.

Arguably, Trump meant he has done more to distract and deceive the American people, nowhere more egregiously than as to his ties to Russia, the hostile nation that attacked the heart of our republic by grossly interfering in the 2016 election.
If Trump was referring to any or all of the above “accomplishments,” I would have to agree – no president in history has done more.

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Richardson

carlson

Every state has a handful of elected officials who are the glue that hold the government together. They are the folks who see public servce as a noble calling to serve others. They labor often in anonymity. They do not seek the limelight. They treat all voters, regardless of party with respect.

They do not subject themselves to the slings and arrows of outraged constituents who all too often do not have their facts straight for the pay which is often laughably parsimonious, nor any alleged glory. They patiently listen because that is part of the job, and then they respectfully correct and educate.

They understand that politics involves compromise, that the voters expect they will be part of the solution to challenges not part of the problem. They seldom raise their voice, but when they do speak others listen. They command respect because they do their homework and speak knowledgeably.

Sometimes they are in leadership, sometimes they are not. Lobbyists and media who cover government know who these “go to” folks are.

For the past 20 years Idaho’s State Senate has been blessed with two of these indispensable individuals, Senator and Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, and Senator and Joint Finance co-chair Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint. This past week brought the news that both will be leaving the Legislature, Davis to become U.S. attorney for Idaho, and Keough to return to private life to resume full-time her position as executive director of the Idaho Logging Contractor’s Association.

Of the two Keough is the least known which suits her just fine. She quietly labored in obscurity on the Joint Finance and Appropriations committee, the Legislature’s most powerful committee (it sets the budget) for a number of years, finally ascending to the Senate co-chair post in her tenth term.

She has navigated the shoals and reefs on a number of issues, not the least of which has been consistently strong support for fully funding k-12 education that often found her out of step with a governor and colleagues who in past years seriously underfunded public education.

Her moderation coupled with compassionate constitutional conservatism nonetheless made her a target for the Tea Party faction of the GOP, the hard right wing nuts who demand ideological purity and adherence to downright absurd views such as abolishing the 17th amendment that provides for direct election of U.S.senators.

Her decency and competency as well as solid constituent service along with a steely discipline inside her velvet gloves enabled her to beat back viciously personal primary challenges orchestrated primarily by State Rep. Heather Scott and her surrogates.

Despite personal threats she fearlessly showed up at most campaign forums during her last three elections and, despite the vitriol, her “here are the facts style” often quieted the zealots.

Over the years she has personified the best a citizen legislator can be. She and her husband, Mike, successfully raised two children, one a Vandal, the other a Bronco, and walked the talk of family values that so few political figures actually practice.

Though petite and soft spoken she could play hardball when she had to do so. When Avista’s lobbyist, Neil Colwell, took part in an ill-conceived move by Keough’s Republican Senate colleague from Coeur d’Alene, State Senator Bob Nonini, and sponsored four Republican primary challengers to incumbent Republican state senators, she banned Colwell from her office.

Recognizing the stupid error, Avista chair Scott Morris drove to Sandpoint to apologize in person for the almost incomprehensible move. For his part Senator Nonini later apologized personally and made amends. Demonstrating a graciousness hard to fathom, Keough reportedly forgave Nonini’s egregious breach of protocal.

For someone born in New Jersey and raised in Ohio, Keough, who migrated to Idaho when she was 19, has become a true Idahoan – intelligent, independent, compassionate, conservative, a person of her word, the personification of honor, decency and competency. Idaho’s citizens are all better off because people like Bart Davis and Shawn Keough chose to answer the call of public service. They will be truly missed. When you next see either be sure and thank them for that service.

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Carlson

jones

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, House Speaker Scott Bedke and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney are to be commended for proposing to tighten up campaign finance and ethics laws.

While there has been a great deal of discussion regarding this subject over the years, there has been too little action. I hope that the working group will look at several measures that did not appear in media reports about the working group’s first meeting – disclosure of the identity of owners of business entity campaign contributors; limitation of expenditures by parties making independent expenditures to support or oppose a candidate for public office; more frequent reporting of contributions; and establishment of an independent commission to investigate complaints of violation of the Sunshine Act and conduct studies of campaign and ethics issues.

Twenty years ago, the Legislature approved House Concurrent Resolution 27, which established a special committee to study campaign and ethics issues and to recommend reforms, much like the charge of the current working group. The five-member working group included former Chief Justice Charles McDevitt and former Governor Cecil Andrus. I was appointed to the committee by legislative leadership and ended up chairing the committee. The committee met twice to receive testimony and recommendations from the public.

The 1997 committee recommended six specific proposals to the Legislature. No action was taken on any of the proposals. House Bill 546, which provided for the creation of a Political and Campaign Finance and Ethics Commission, was printed and assigned to the State Affairs Committee, but stalled out there. This is still a good idea because, as explained at the time, such a permanent committee could “continuously review the effectiveness” of the ethics statutes and recommend needed changes. The text of House Bill 546 can be found on the Legislature’s website for the 1998 session.

Recent elections have disclosed that some individuals skirt contribution limits by funneling contributions through corporations or other business entities they own. It is not always easy to determine the true identity of such contributors. Rather than prohibiting contributions by such entities, the Legislature should require disclosure of the names of persons who have ownership interests of 25% or more in such business entities.

We have also seen sizable advertising campaigns to support or oppose candidates through independent expenditures. While independent expenditures must be reported to the Secretary of State, there does not appear to be any limitation on the amount that may be spend on such an effort. Persons or entities making independent expenditures to support or oppose candidates should be subject to the same limits as are imposed on political contributors.

More frequent reporting of contributions should be required. The 7-day pre-election report does not give the public an adequate opportunity to see who is supporting a candidate. If there is something amiss, the media is often reluctant to report it at that late date for fear of being accused of unfairness. I would suggest adding 30 and 60 pre-election reporting requirements for both primary and general elections.

Candidates should also be required to report expenses as they are incurred, not when payment of the expense is made. There can be a significant gap between the two times and candidates often try to disguise how much they are spending by only reporting an expense when the check finally goes out the door.

This endeavor to bring more transparency and honesty to the election process is a worthy one and I wish Hill, Bedke and Denney success in their efforts.

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Jones