Balukoff's transparency includes wife's wealth

The Democrat backed Romney for president but says the former candidate's financial secrecy 'bred distrust.'

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comDecember 10, 2013 

A.J. Balukoff — who earlier disclosed his net worth at between $40 million and $50 million — says his wife's inheritance is worth another $20 million.

Balukoff announced his campaign for governor last week and says he's voluntarily revealing his family's worth "because I don't want a discussion of personal wealth to distract from the real issues of my campaign."

The part-owner of the Idaho Steelheads, Grove Hotel, CenturyLink Arena and other buildings says he will help fund his campaign but hasn't decided how much to spend. "At this point, it is more of a guiding principle: I want this to be a shared effort."

Why did Balukoff answer the Statesman's questions about his finances so swiftly and in such detail? Balukoff noted how 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was dogged by questions about his wealth.

"I think it is better to just answer the question and hopefully people will forget about it and pay attention to things that really matter to our state and whether I have the values and experience to help," Balukoff said. "I don't want to make the same mistake Romney made by trying not to disclose his personal financial information. It seems that just bred distrust and we have more than enough of that in politics."

Balukoff's wife, Susie, is one of four children of Sam Skaggs, who built a national chain of drug and grocery stores and died in March.

Balukoff, 67, said a trust established for his wife was worth about $2 million — with stock in Skaggs Drugs — when they married. "She never used that stock, but left it alone to grow over the years," Balukoff said. "When her father retired in 1996, she sold all of her stock and has investment advisers that manage the account. That account is her separate property and is worth about $20 million."

Unlike federal candidates, state and local candidates in Idaho do not have to disclose their personal finances. The man Balukoff seeks to unseat — GOP Gov. Butch Otter — filed reports when he was in Congress. His last report, for 2006, put his assets in a range between $9 million and $32 million. Otter has self-funded his campaigns, most recently forgiving a $131,000 loan.

Balukoff has served on a number of high-profile boards with other well-off Idahoans and said he thinks he can win financial support from those connections. Among his board positions have been St. Luke's Regional Medical Center, Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy, Ballet Idaho, Opera Idaho, Boise Philharmonic, Boy Scouts of America's Ore-Ida Council, the Learning Lab, Arthritis Foundation, Children's Home Society of Idaho and Boise Public Library.

The Associated Press reported last week that Balukoff contributed to Romney's 2008 and 2012 campaigns, as well as other Republicans, including $250 to Otter's 2004 congressional race. A Statesman review of state and federal finance reports since 1998 shows Balukoff has given widely to both the GOP and Democrats, but has been more generous to Democrats.

Balukoff, individually and in joint contributions with his wife, gave about $46,000 to 32 Democratic candidates and the Idaho Democratic Party. Balukoff's individual and joint contributions to 23 Republicans totaled about $21,000. Balukoff supported Otter's Democratic opponents in 2006 and 2010.

Asked how he'll explain his support of Romney over President Obama to Democrats, Balukoff said, "I pay more attention to the candidate's values, experience and competence than to the party affiliation. I thought Mitt Romney's experience as a CEO was more relevant to the responsibilities of the president than Barack Obama's experience."

He said, however, that while Obama's Affordable Care Act "is not ideal," reform was necessary. "I would be in favor of working with the law and amending parts that are problematic."

Balukoff said he's "more focused on the problems that we face in Idaho — problems that we can and should address: 20 years of one-party rule that has led Idaho to the bottom in education and jobs."

"Our government is supposed to be a two-party system. There are smart people of good will in both parties, and neither has a monopoly on good ideas. After the election, I expect our elected representatives to put away the partisan campaigning and work together for the good of our state."

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service