An unprecedented amount of money from independent allies helped boost contenders in Idaho's primary election.
More than $1.2 million was spent on so-called independent expenditures by wealthy donors in the final weeks leading up to May 15, according to a review of the latest campaign disclosure reports. In comparison, third-party donors spent just $296,000 in 2016 on independent expenditures during the primary campaign and around $361,000 in 2014 during the same time frame.
Independent expenditures are political campaign communications that advocate for the support or defeat of a candidate or measure. They cannot be done in coordination with the candidate or measure.
While the use of independent expenditures has been increasing, individual candidates still significantly outpaced campaign spending during the primary. For example, the gubernatorial race alone saw a combined $11 million from the top five Democratic and Republican candidates in the fight over the open seat.
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However, the spike in independent expenditures shows that this year's battle over open political seats is primed to outpace previous campaign spending.
The Fairness Project, a Washington-based group backed by labor unions to push progressive ballot measures, spent the most out of the 15 groups who reported independent expenditures during the buildup to the Idaho primary.
The Fairness Project shelled out nearly $547,000 on helping the proposed Medicaid expansion ballot initiative — which is projected to be on the Idaho ballot in November but is still waiting signature verification from the state.
The group spent the majority of the money on Medicaid expansion signature-gatherers through Washington-based Fieldworks LLC, while $12,000 was directed to Hilltop Public Solutions that was marked as being spent on "surveys and polls."
While Idaho's Medicaid expansion effort has been marketed largely as a grassroots effort, the Fairness Project has been playing a key role in several conservative states —including Idaho — to expand Medicaid through a ballot measure.
Other top independent spenders during the primary election was the political action committee for the Idaho Realtors, which spent around $170,000 to help GOP gubernatorial candidate Brad Little and multiple GOP legislative races.
Meanwhile, the newly-formed Independent Republicans for Idaho — a PAC created this year with donors made up of education, labor and conservation groups — spent more than $145,000 exclusively on Little to help him win the primary against opponents U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist.