State Politics

Realtors, Idaho Power spend most on Idaho campaigns

Idaho Power: $52,500 The Idaho utility is the second-largest contributor to Idaho candidates in 2015 and 2016. Idaho Power’s Brownlee Dam on the Snake River.
Idaho Power: $52,500 The Idaho utility is the second-largest contributor to Idaho candidates in 2015 and 2016. Idaho Power’s Brownlee Dam on the Snake River. Statesman file

The power of incumbency — and being a Republican in one of the reddest of red states — drives a better than 4-1 fundraising advantage for Idaho’s congressional incumbents over Democratic challengers in November, campaign finance disclosures show.

Also helping incumbent Republicans are the committee assignments or party leadership positions they hold in Washington, which give them access to a larger pool of funds from national or Washington-based corporate and interest groups. Plus, they’ve been raising money longer. Most Democrats began serious fundraising efforts only this year.

The Statesman reviewed campaign finance disclosures filed by candidates with the Federal Election Commission, and additional data collected and analyzed by National Institute on Money in State Politics, focusing on contributions and expenditures in 2015 and most of 2016.

How much? Who got it?

▪ Candidates for state and federal office in Idaho raised nearly $6 million in 2015 and through August of 2016. More than half of that went to six candidates for federal office. One U.S. Senate seat and both Idaho seats in the House of Representatives are on the ballot this year.

▪ Of the approximately $3.4 million raised during the period by U.S. Senate and House candidates, $2.7 million was raised by Republicans. Of that amount, 60 percent, more than $1.6 million, belongs to Sen. Mike Crapo, who is seeking his fourth term. At the other end, Democrat Jennifer Martinez, running against nine-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, has raised just a little more than $5,000.

▪ The largest single contribution to any candidate or committee was a $240,000 loan that Jerry Sturgill, Crapo’s Democratic opponent, made to himself. The next highest was a transfer of $115,000 made to the Idaho Democratic Committee by Georgia’s Democrats. Idaho Democrats described it as routine redistribution of national campaign funds among state committees.

▪ Among $3.4 million in contributions to all candidates from nonindividuals, which includes PACs, businesses, corporations, party committees and other organizations, the top donations came from the business sector that includes finance, insurance and real estate companies. The next biggest was the health sector, which includes organizations representing health professions and pharmaceutical companies. Agriculture was the third-largest sector.

▪ Through the filing period that ended in June, the most recent for federal candidates, the three Republicans and three Democrats in the federal races had spent a combined $2.9 million, the largest payments going to staff, campaign consultants and advertising.

Who gave the most?

Excluding candidate loans, non-itemized contributions and giving by political committees, the largest donors in Idaho were in-state interests: the Idaho Association of Realtors at $55,375, Idaho Power at $52,500 and the Professional Fire Fighters of Idaho at $36,000. Next came agricultural firms: Monsanto ($31,000), Altria ($30,950) and Simplot ($30,000).

In terms of business types, commercial banks and bank holding companies donated nearly $127,000, followed by pharmaceutical manufacturers ($116,000), attorneys and law firms ($112,600), securities and investment firms (109,000), and life insurance companies ($101,500).

John Eaton, government affairs director for the real estate group, said the organization experienced a political awakening in 2004 when a candidate it supported, himself a real estate agent, lost a state legislative race by a handful of votes. Twenty-one Realtors who worked in the candidate’s own office had not voted.

Idaho has 18 local Realtor associations with a combined 7,200 members, Eaton said. The local, state and national organizations pool contributions by members, and so far about 45 percent of Idaho members have contributed.

“Our members are overwhelmingly small-business folks, and they’re all independent contractors,” Eaton said. “It’s a very wide path of support within the organization to make sure we’re involved in these races, and making sure that when we have somebody that agrees with our philosophy that we’re supporting them.”

Eaton said the group expects its total contributions to Idaho races this year to be around $100,000. Political giving, he said, is not about pressing the group’s agenda but supporting like-minded candidates.

“I know people don’t believe that,” Eaton said. “You try to find somebody that has as close to the same political philosophy as your organization and get those folks elected. You’re not going to agree with them all the time.”

Idaho Power makes a similar point. “There are some overarching principles that we pay attention to, things like the economy and having a good business environment that provides for job creation and a good economy,” Jeff Malmen, Idaho Power’s vice president of public affairs, told the Statesman last year.

Who got the most?

Crapo, who led all candidates in contributions received, got roughly one-third of his $1.6 million in donations from finance, insurance and real estate interests. That fits with his stature as a member of the Senate Banking and Finance committees.

Asked about his support from financial institutions Monday by the Statesman editorial board, Crapo said contributions reflect his philosophy and votes in Congress, rather than drive them.

“The reason I get support from this broad array of segments of the economy is because I fight for limited government, lower taxes, a free market and an environment in which businesses small and large can thrive,” he said.

Simpson, seeking his 10th term, took in nearly $760,000, the largest portion of which came from interests in the energy and natural resources sector. Simpson is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, chairs the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, and serves on two other Appropriations subcommittees.

Idaho’s other House member, Raul Labrador, received roughly $347,000. Sectors comprising finance, insurance and real estate firms; general business; and agricultural interests each constituted roughly 10 percent of his take.

Comparing contributions from different election years is tricky. How much an individual candidate raises depends on many variables, including whether the candidate has a competitive race or a healthy war chest. Labrador, for example, raised more than $800,000 in his 2012 race but $543,000 in 2014. And Simpson raised $1.2 million in 2012 but more than double that in 2014.

Where does it come from?

Among all filers, about 57 percent of funds received, or $3.4 million, came from corporate or other nonindividual entities. Individuals gave roughly $2.6 million, or 43 percent. The proportion of in-state to out-of-state donors was nearly equal.

The in-state/out-of-state comparison changes considerably among federal candidates. In those races, out-of-state donations in 2015 and 2016 ran better than 3-1 against those from interests within Idaho; donations from organizations measured 54 percent compared to 46 percent from individuals.

How much was spent? Where?

Through June of this year, the most recent filing period, Idaho’s federal candidates combined had spent nearly $2.9 million on their race, and incumbents by far made up most of that: $2.7 million, or 94 percent. Among them, Crapo spent nearly $1.8 million. Simpson doled out $512,000, including $100,000 to the House Republicans campaign committee, and Labrador spent $420,000.

Spending by their Democratic opponents ranged from about $91,000 by James Piotrowski, Labrador’s opponent, to just over $2,000 by Martinez.

Invariably for all candidates, the largest category of expenses was for campaign worker payroll, consultants on fundraising and strategy, and advertising.

Who cost the most?

For federal candidates in 2015 through June of this year, Boise-based Riverwood Strategies has earned $266,000 as a fundraising consultant for both Crapo and Simpson. Crapo paid them $186,000 and Simpson nearly $80,000.

Following Riverwood are two more Crapo fundraising consultants, both in Washington, D.C.: Barracks Row Strategies, paid $180,486, and Highwood Capital, paid $153,807. The Voyageur Company, a Crapo direct mail firm based in St. Paul, Minn., was paid $92,408.

The Stoneridge Group of Alpharetta, Ga., was paid $77,750 by Labrador for strategy, marketing, direct mail and advertising.

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @IDSBillD