One of the things that makes Idaho politics so cheap to buy is that the stakes are so small. You get what you pay for and so you really don’t have to pay all that much. Isn’t the marketplace wonderful?
Idaho citizens passed our “Sunshine Laws” by initiative back in 1974 when a thousand dollars wasn’t chump change. The law limited what a candidate could accept from any individual donor in each campaign cycle to $1K. And the law required any donation over $50 to be public. I loved the $49 dollar donations I got from Republicans in my district. I would have preferred a yard sign, or a public handshake. But I took what I could get.
The idea was to promote transparency in the election process. Who is spending money to support this guy?
This week a report comes out that an Idaho citizen decided to go after some Republican State Senators in their primaries. So, he, and his wife and all of his many businesses sent the maximum, $1K, to their opponents. It looks like everybody reported everything appropriately, so we can tell just who he wanted to take out.
And indeed, most these incumbents got beat in their closed Republican primaries. Some had very small margins. But our elections are not fraudulent, are they? Sorry for that digression.
Here’s the kicker. The Idaho Freedom Foundation also opposed these incumbents. And they might have spent some money in that election also. But we can’t know what they spent. Their political arm is a 501.C4 entity and those guys don’t contribute directly to candidates. They do “independent expenditures”.
Full disclosure, after I got elected to the Idaho Senate I got introduced to independent expenditures. I became the treasurer for the IDLCC, a 501.C4 that worked to get more Democratic legislators into the statehouse. Some thought having my name listed publicly was a mistake, but I thought it would add transparency. Boy, that didn’t work out.
And I am now on the Board of CVI, another 501.C4 that raises money and spends it (independently from candidates’ campaigns) to get the folks we want elected. But Idaho’s Sunshine Laws only regulate direct contributions to candidates, not independent investments. Back in 1974, political action committees (PACs) weren’t protected by our Supreme Court, so they didn’t really play. Nowadays, they are where the most money goes.
Back to this citizen who wanted to put his thumb on the weak scales of the closed Idaho Republican primary. And he sent too much money to his favored candidates. He will receive no sanction since the law only requires candidates to comply. And they will receive no sanction. The current Idaho Secretary of State who is in charge of policing campaign contributions will just notify them of the “issue”. Lawrence Denney is looking forward to retirement. Don’t expect much enforcement from his second-floor Capitol office.
No, our votes are for sale here in Idaho. The smaller the pool of voters we need to influence, the cheaper the price.
Back to the kicker, the IFF and their PAC. What if this donor guy (wrongly) sent $30K around the state to the candidates he wanted, and they took it (wrongly) and nobody gets sanctioned? He could have sent $500K to the IFF PAC and nobody would know. Maybe he did.
So, buying an elected seat in Idaho is cheap for those with too much money. This is reflected in the Idaho Republican Party Platform. Make our primary as small and selective as we can. That way we are cheap to buy.
Further, make the United States Senators selected not by popular vote, but by the legislature. Us politicians are all for sale here. Let the bidding war begin.