Otter's use of lobbyists irks Fulcher

The governor has four on his campaign, but his main challenger employs a former one.

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comMay 8, 2014 

State Sen. Russ Fulcher says Gov. Butch Otter's reliance on lobbyists for his re-election campaign calls into question which people he'd represent in a third term - ordinary Idahoans or those "with cash and connections."

In a news release Wednesday, Fulcher noted the lobbyists on Otter's staff. The release, sent by Fulcher campaign manager China Gum, didn't mention that Gum is a former lobbyist who operates a political consulting firm, Inside Baseball Public Affairs..

The four with lobbying backgrounds on Otter's team are:

• Campaign manager Jayson Ronk, who took a leave of absence as vice president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry.

• Finance director Martin Bilbao, a lobbyist last registered in 2010 who became account services manager for the troubled school broadband provider, Education Networks of America.

• Lincoln Smyser, whose 2014 clients included the scandal-plagued outgoing operator of Idaho's private prison, Corrections Corporation of America.

• Elli Brown, whose 2014 clients at Veritas Advisors included the Northwest Food Processors Association.

"The governor now has staffers from the state's largest lobbying firms working on his re-election campaign," Fulcher said. "These relationships give people reason to suspect their government of wrongdoing, even when nothing illicit is taking place. It makes people wonder whether the governor's re-election is about advancing and empowering Idahoans, or advancing and empowering people with cash and connections."

In a reply to the Statesman, Gum acknowledged registering as a lobbyist in 2004-2005 and 2013.

Fulcher said the question is whether Otter's campaign staffers will influence state contracts and legislation.

"Is it legal? Probably. Does it look really, really bad? I sure think so," Fulcher said.

Ronk did not reply to a request for comment.

Gum registered as a lobbyist for the nonprofit Idaho Freedom Foundation in August and September 2013. In 2004 and 2005 she lobbied for the Idaho State Independent Auto Dealers Association; at the time her name was China Veldhouse.

Of the IFF work, Gum said, "I led a team of researchers looking into Idaho's statehood and ultimately resulted in a white paper on Idaho's enabling act. My focus was on research and education, not lobbying."

Of the work for the car dealers, she said, "I worked to keep the dealers informed of tax and regulatory changes that affect them. I have never lobbied for a government contract or a company involved in any taxpayer scandals.

"When I finish this job, I will go back to being a mom," Gum said. "When the Otter staff finishes the governor's race, they will firmly attach themselves to the government's teat."

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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