Boise Democrat’s lobbyist solicitation raises eyebrows

Rep. Phylis King invites people to attend Friday’s ‘Dems Under the Dome’ fundraiser.

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comJanuary 8, 2014 

King, Phylis K.JPG

Phylis King

Rep. Phylis King emailed lobbyists Sunday suggesting that Friday’s $25 event “is a great opportunity to help Ada County Democrats,” despite a tradition that discourages fundraising by lawmakers during the legislative session.

King’s invitation does not violate the law or any rule, but does “hit a gray area that all of us in this building should probably be more careful about,” said Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum.

“I probably wouldn’t have made that direct solicitation because I divide my lines pretty clearly,” Stennett said Tuesday. “But I don’t think she’s gone over the line because she’s not personally receiving it.”

King said she considered ethics — a key topic for minority Democrats in recent years — before sending her emails on the eve of the 2014 Legislature.

“This fundraiser is not for me personally, as in money for my vote,” King said. “This fundraiser is for the Ada Dems and it keeps the doors open here in Boise.”

King’s email notes the modest price of the event and says lobbyists weren’t asked to contribute at a higher level to earn sponsorship credit.

“I consider some of the lobbyists to be my friends, and I think some of them believe we should have two strong parties in order to better govern,” King told the Statesman.

The invitation says proceeds of the event at the Huntley Law Office in Boise’s Carnegie Library will “go toward electing Democrats in the upcoming elections.”

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, declined comment on whether he would have preferred King not invite lobbyists to Friday’s event. “What Phylis did was as a member of Ada County Democrats,” he said.

But Rusche said he supports the custom of not holding fundraisers during the session for candidates or the campaign arms of the House and Senate Democratic and Republican caucuses.

“I have discomfort with somebody raising money for legislative candidates where there may be bills in front of them because of the conflict that money presents,” Rusche said. The House Democratic Caucus held a fundraiser last month.

The lobbyist and former GOP lawmaker who pressed officials to cease raising money during the session said he sees no problem in King’s solicitation because it benefits the county party.

“This isn’t any different than Republicans holding their Lincoln Day banquets during the session,” said former Sen. Skip Smyser, who from 2006 to 2012 was president of Legislative Advisers, the nonprofit that represents the Statehouse lobbying corps.

During his tenure as president of the group, Smyser pressed elected officials to quit raising money during the session because of the perception that a contribution might be connected to a vote.

“It became very, very troubling to me because I felt it didn’t look right,” Smyser said.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said he supports the practice advocated by Smyser and that he would have “steered away” a GOP colleague from writing an email like King’s. Bedke, however, said King makes a fair point about the money being for party-building.

“Our righteous indignation should be somewhat tempered,” Bedke said. “This is for Ada County Democrats, not the minority caucus or her personal campaign.”

Republicans scheduled their fundraisers shortly before the session opened. The House caucus held its event last month, the Senate caucus on Friday, and Gov. Butch Otter and the Idaho Republican Party on Saturday.

Senate Democrats have no caucus fundraiser planned, Stennett said.

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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