Elections

These groups are looking to influence Boise’s election, and they’re willing to spend

Political action committees, which allow people and groups to raise money privately to influence elections, are hard at work in Boise politics.

PACs have been spending big money to try to win you over to their preferred candidates.

City Council President Lauren McLean has earned the endorsement of Conservation Voters for Idaho and the financial support of its PAC, the Conservation Voters for Idaho Action Fund. The PAC spent $39,380 to support McLean, primarily on print products from ESP Printing & Mailing and for the services of Greenlight Media Strategies, a firm that specializes in political consulting.

McLean isn’t the only candidate to get big money spent in their name.

The Idaho Realtors PAC (which does not have identifying documents posted online) spent more $30,446 with a Denver company called Access Marketing to support Ada County Highway District commission President Rebecca Arnold, which she said she was stunned to learn but called a “pleasant surprise.”

Mayor David Bieter won support of a PAC known as Bright Future Boise, which reported spending a total of $105,140 from Sept. 27 to Oct. 18 to Media Partners, a company based in Tualatin, Oregon, that specializes in strategic marketing. (The PAC paid Media Partners another $73,843 in October, but that money is not specifically listed as being spent to support Bieter’s campaign.)

The PAC did not originally file paperwork with the city declaring its treasurer, causing some confusion, but Deputy City Clerk Jamie Heinzerling said Monday that the committee had been working with the city to correct that. It submitted its paperwork Monday; Heinzerling said the city generally does not impose fines on groups that are not in compliance with filing laws even though it has the right to, opting instead to focus on education.

Both the Conservation Voters for Idaho Action Fund and Bright Future Boise get their money primarily from a small number of donors.

The Conservation Voters for Idaho Action Fund, for example, gets some money from individual donors and Democratic politicians around the state, but it also brought in $3,000 from solid waste collection company Republic Services (which services Boise and several other Treasure Valley cities), $4,000 from Eagle-based HHS Construction and $25,000 from LCV Victory Fund, a political committee funded by the League of Conservation Voters.

Bright Future Boise gets its money from a small number of groups groups, according to filings. It brought in thousands from PACs belonging to various municipal firefighters’ unions around Idaho, Washington and Montana.

“We are proud to have union support, and if they choose to do that through a PAC, we’re happy to have that,” said Robert West, Bieter’s campaign manager.

The PAC’s second-largest donor is another union, the Washington, D.C.-based International Association of Firefighters, which gave $24,000. It’s biggest donor is a developer: Gardner Property Holdings LC, a Salt Lake City company that gave $25,000. Gardner owns the 257,000-square foot US Bank Building in Boise aand developed Eighth & Main, the tallest building in Boise, known for housing Zions Bank.

PACs locally look much like they do at the federal level. PACs operating in Boise must submit detailed filings of their donors and expenditures like candidates do, and they can act to support or oppose candidates or specific causes. Boise Working Together, for example, the community group that got Propositions 1 and 2 on the ballot, formed a PAC.

By law, campaigns cannot coordinate with political action committees, but campaign organizers often see value in how PACs can spread a message to more voters.

“I’m going to keep my head down and keep doing what I need to do to win this election ... but the extra support is nice to have,” McLean said in a text message.

While there’s no limit on how much a political action committee can spend on the behalf of a candidate, a PAC can give no more than $1,000 directly to a candidate per campaign.

McLean said early in the mayoral campaign that she wouldn’t accept money from corporations or corporate PACs, ruling out anything with a “a profit motive.” She told the Statesman in June that she would still accept money from “mission-driven” groups, however, which includes Conservation Voters for Idaho.

“For me, it comes down to the public interest,” McLean said in a text message Tuesday. “Values-driven, nonprofit PACs are working on shared public good, advocating for issues that benefit each of us, and candidates that share those values.”

She has accepted money from the Planned Parenthood Votes Idaho PAC, the political action committee of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii; and from the Progress Growth PAC, which does not have the identifying paperwork available online but that McLean’s campaign says belongs to P.G. Sittenfeld, a member of the Cincinnati City Council.

Bieter has accepted money from several PACs as well, including several firefighter PACs — Boise, Caldwell, Middleton, Ketchum, Coeur d’Alene — and several corporate PACs, including ones from Micron Technology and JPMorgan Chase.

Arnold accepted PAC money from the Building Contractors Association of Southwestern Idaho, as did Boise City Council Seat 1 candidate Patrick Bageant, Seat 3 candidate Meredith Stead and Seat 5 candidate Debbie Lombard-Bloom.

City Council President Pro Tem Elaine Clegg got money from the Boise Fire Chief Officers PAC 672.

Bageant and Stead reported the most PAC donations on their Oct. 10 finance reports. They got money from the same Planned Parenthood PAC that McLean did. They also received money from the Idaho Association of Realtors Inc. and the professional firefighters’ PAC.

Bageant said he doesn’t see PACs creating influence or an unfair dynamic in a campaign. The reason he accepts money from them, he said, “is the same reason you accept money from any campaign supporter.”

“Money is necessary to running any successful campaign,” Bageant said by phone, saying he felt there was no difference between taking money from a Realtors PAC or from a real estate agent because the limits and requirements are the same for individuals and PACs. He said the ratio of how much PAC money a candidate receives compared with how much money the candidate gets from individual donors says a lot about them.

Tuesday marked the latest campaign finance deadline and the last before the election with the exception of 48-hour reports, which are required for campaigns that receive $1,000 contributions up until Election Day.

The election is Nov. 5.

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Hayley covers local government for the Idaho Statesman with a primary focus on Boise. Previously, she worked for the Salisbury Daily Times, the Hartford Courant, the Denver Post and McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. Hayley graduated from Ohio University with degrees in journalism and political science.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.
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