Ben Ysursa went to work for Idaho Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa in June 1974. Two months later, President Nixon resigned, in significant part because of his manipulations of secret campaign contributions.
While Nixon was still fighting to stay in office, the 1974 Idaho Legislature rejected legislation requiring disclosure of campaign contributions and spending, as well as lobbyist registration. So Idaho voters took it upon themselves, gathering signatures to put the Sunshine Initiative on the November 1974 ballot; 78 percent voted for transparency.
The peoples trust in politicians needs to be restored, wrote proponents in the Idaho Voter Guide. The majority who serve in government are unselfish and honest men and women. But the unfortunate actions of some, the secrecy surrounding campaign financing and the hidden lobbying activities by powerful interests have taken a great toll in trust at every level of government.
You could write that today, Ysursa said Tuesday, the day after he asked a judge to order the newly formed Education Voters of Idaho (EVI) to say where it got $200,000 to buy broadcast advertising in support of Propositions 1, 2 and 3.
On top of ignoring popular will, EVI, led by Gov. Butch Otters two-time campaign manager, Debbie Field, is attacking Ysursa, Idahos top vote-getter. In 2002 and 2010, Ysursa outpolled every other contested candidate, averaging 76 percent of the vote in those two contests. In 2006, he was unopposed.
In what appears a desperate attempt to keep secret embarrassing information about the contributions, Field is linking Ysursa, a lifelong Republican, with teachers unions the campaign calls thugs.
Although efforts by the Secretary of State, the union and its allies have temporarily chilled our ability to fulfill our mission, we wont back down, wrote Field and EVI spokesman John Foster in an op-ed Monday.
Confounding that narrative, Ysursa also seeks disclosure from the unions of contributions in excess of $50, as the Sunshine law mandates.
Ysursa didnt run to the courthouse he gave EVI ample time to comply after the Oct. 10 deadline. He acted only after EVI proposed the bizarre idea of having its affiliate, which bought the ads, refund the $200,000 to EVI.
The horse had left, Ysursa said. Theyd already spent the money.
Ysursa winds up pitted against friends, including Otter, with whom he held private talks trying to get some sort of compliance.
This should have been vetted a lot more than it was, Ysursa said. Everybodys antenna should have gone up when theyre going to give money anonymously.
Otter and Field declined comment, but Foster said: I think Ben is doing what he thinks is right under the spirit of the law, but we are now going to court to see what is correct under the letter of the law. And not just Idaho law, but constitutional law.
Foster, you might recall, was the architect of former Democratic Congressman Walt Minnicks 2010 TV ads attacking now-Rep. Raul Labrador for having the gall to practice immigration law.
Minnick said he hasnt spoken to Foster in months. He said he salutes Ysursa for pressing to uphold his oath of office.
There are few public servants in Idaho who have greater integrity or are better regarded across the political spectrum than Ben Ysursa, Minnick said. The objective of full disclosure of all political contributions is extremely important in preserving democracy.
With polls showing the propositions in trouble, I suspect Foster is counseling Otter as he counseled Minnick, who suffered a 10-point loss: The path to victory is through the dark side.
Thats a tough sell with Ysursa shining the light.
Hes trying to do his official duty, said former Gov. Phil Batt, Idahos most popular living Republican. I dont think its wise to take him on publicly like that.
When you think of integrity in government and politics, Ysursas name immediately comes to mind, said Jim Weatherby, an emeritus professor at Boise State. Hes proving that by taking on some of the establishment.
Commenters on the Statesman website have said things like Go Big Ben! Hats off to you, sir and Ben is the man. One called for him to run for governor.
Ysursa said he has no interest in anything other than his present job.
We had to go to the mat on this, he explained. If you gut disclosure, youve gutted the law.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics