Initiative proposes sweeping changes to Idaho’s campaign finance laws

Former Boise legislator Holli Woodings chairs the initiative campaign. Woodings ran for Idaho secretary of state in 2014.
Former Boise legislator Holli Woodings chairs the initiative campaign. Woodings ran for Idaho secretary of state in 2014. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

The proposed changes to Idaho’s campaign finance laws include restrictions on campaign contributions from those holding or seeking big state contracts and a ban on pricey lobbyist gifts to lawmakers.

Holli Woodings, who chairs the initiative campaign, says signature gatherers around the state have collected the nearly 48,000 signatures necessary to make the November ballot. They also tried to collect 40 percent over that mark, to compensate for any signatures that aren’t found to be valid. Saturday was the last day to collect signatures.

“We’ve put about $100,000 into signature gathering at this point,” said Woodings.

To qualify for the November ballot, the campaign also must have signatures from 6 percent of the number of those who voted in the last presidential election in each of 18 legislative districts. “It’s a complicated formula,” Woodings said. “It’s definitely not easy to get something on the ballot.”

Woodings said the effort is being funded by local and national organizations and individual donors. Donors will be listed in the group’s first campaign finance report, which is due seven days before the May 17 primary election.

The initiative is one of five in states done in coordination with Every Voice, a Washington, D.C., campaign finance reform organization. Woodings said Idaho’s initiative, developed after research on changes Idahoans want, is most similar to one also proposed in Arkansas.

Woodings acknowledged that the proposed changes are big. “It’s the type of reform that you can’t really do in a small way,” she said.

If the initiative becomes law, Woodings said, it would make Idaho politicians more accountable to the citizens rather than big-money interests. “You can’t fund a campaign wholly through large donors,” she said. “You’re going to have to go out there and talk to the voters.”

The restrictions on contributions from state contractors came in direct response to concerns about failed state contracts in Idaho, Woodings said, and big campaign donations from the firms involved.

Woodings said she’s “optimistic” about voters supporting the initiative. “And we’re going to work as hard as we can to make sure that everyone’s educated on what it does,” she said.

What does the initiative propose?

▪  Prohibits donations to candidates or political committees from anyone doing business with the state in the past two years — defined as a contract that could over its term come to $250,000 or more. The prohibition extends to corporate board members, officers, managers, owners, lobbyists and their spouses or children.

▪  Bans all lobbyist gifts to state lawmakers of more than $50 in a year, including meals, entertainment and lodging.

▪  Limits on contributions to candidates and political committees in each election cycle would be cut in half.

▪  Penalties for campaign finance violations would more than double; big violations, involving more than $25,000, could bring felony penalties.

▪  All campaign finance reports would have to be submitted electronically, and posted immediately online in machine-readable, sortable form. Also, employers would have to be identified for donors of more than $50.

▪  Create a “revolving door” law in Idaho for the first time, banning paid lobbying within one year of leaving a public office or appointed position. Violations would be a felony.