Capitol & State

Late disclosure reveals payday loan group bought ads in tight Idaho House race

It took a lawsuit to shake the information loose, but a Colorado-based PAC disclosed Monday that radio ads on behalf of Rep. Jeff Thompson were financed by a $25,000 contribution from a trade group representing payday loan businesses.

Citizens for Fairness had said it wasn't subject to Idaho's 1974 Sunshine Law, which requires disclosure of campaign contributions and spending.

But after Secretary of State Ben Ysursa filed suit in 4th District Court Friday, the group reported receiving $25,000 from the Community Financial Services Association of Alexandria, Va.

The report says just $3,690 of the $25,000 was spent, all on radio ads for Thompson, who helped pass a bill backed by the industry.

Thompson won the May 20 GOP primary in Idaho Falls with 2,431 votes over Steve Yates, who had 2,323 votes. The contest was Idaho's second-closest, with Thompson at 51.1 percent and Yates at 48.9 percent.

Thompson said he was unaware of where the money came from or why the group helped him.

"I don't know anything about any of it," Thompson said. Independent expenditures may not be coordinated with candidates.

Senate Bill 1314 passed the Legislature in March and Thompson supported the bill, which passed the House by a single vote, 35-34. SB 1314 puts income caps on amounts borrowed and allows extended payment plans. Opponents said the bill didn't provide enough consumer protection.

The House Commerce Committee heard the bill. Thompson is vice chairman of the House Business Committee. Chairman Frank Henderson is retiring this year and Thompson is a possible successor. He is assured of re-election in November as no other candidates filed for the office.

Yates said the ads may or may not have been decisive, but were influential.

"That buys a great deal of radio in this market," Yates said Monday. "It had to have made an impact. The fact that it was payday loans matters less than the fact it was undisclosed."

Thompson reported spending $24,000 on the campaign; Yates reported spending about $21,500.

Robert Batson, a lawyer for the Community Financial Services Association, declined comment. The Denver lawyer representing Citizens for Fairness, Jon Anderson, is on sabbatical and unavailable for comment. His colleague at Holland & Hart, Gwendolyn Benevento, signed the Sunshine form and did not respond to an email Monday afternoon. Benevento is a former chief counsel to former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens.

"Many, many things don't add up in this," said Yates, a former national security aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. "But I don't have the answers."

Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst said a civil fine may be assessed against the PAC. "There may be a penalty," Hurst said. "That hasn't been determined yet."

Hurst said the office investigated after calls from voters in Idaho Falls asking about Citizens for Fairness. "We followed up to find what it was," Hurst said.

When the group's lawyer said the group didn't have to comply, the lawsuit was filed, Hurst said.

Yates, 45, moved to Idaho Falls three years ago and was criticized for being a newcomer.

But his challenge to Thompson — who voted for Gov. Butch Otter's health insurance exchange — won support from former Sen. Ann Rydalch and former Reps. Janice McGeachin and Erik Simpson. The only narrower contest was Rep. Pete Nielsen's 51 percent to 49 percent win over Steve Millington. Nielsen, of Mountain Home, won by 83 votes. Rep. Robert Anderst defeated Roger Hunt in Nampa by 91 votes, but Anderst's margin was 3 percentage points because of lower turnout.

Yates said he plans to run again, but he's not sure for what office. He was deputy assistant to the vice president for national security affairs from 2001 to 2005. He also is a regular commentator on Fox News, the BBC, CNBC and Glenn Beck's TheBlaze.

He operates DC International Advisory, a consulting firm that provides international political risk assessments to private clients, and a live TV studio in Idaho Falls for networks without local affiliates. Yates said he plans to open a similar studio in Boise. Yates also is on the board of the Hamilton Foundation, a nonprofit think tank.