Idaho is one of just three states with no financial disclosure requirements for state legislators — or any elected or appointed state official. It also lacks “revolving-door” laws that in most states prevent elected or appointed officials from immediately moving into related roles in the private sector, cashing in on their government experience.
And an ethics and campaign finance reform voter initiative barely missed the threshold to make the Idaho ballot in 2016, proposing to restrict donations to candidates from those holding or seeking big state contracts, cut contribution limits, double penalties for violations and ban big gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers, among other reforms.
Now, the Idaho Legislature’s top leaders are looking at these issues again, and proposing to put together a formal legislative working group to study them and make recommendations to next year’s Legislature.
“This is something the speaker and I have been talking about actually for a couple of years,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. He noted that in 2009, the Idaho Senate unanimously passed legislation to impose the state’s first financial disclosure requirements. The bill died without a hearing in the House, after then-House Speaker Lawerence Denney refused to assign it to a committee.
Denney’s now the Idaho Secretary of State, and even he has been talking for the past two years about the need to tighten up Idaho’s campaign finance laws, possibly along the lines of the proposed 2016 initiative.
“I think it brought up some issues that we both felt like we ought to address,” Hill said. Topics to be examined include penalties for campaign reporting violations; contribution limits; lobbyist financial disclosure; rules for special elections; reporting requirements for candidates and PACs; revolving-door policies and personal financial disclosure.
“We want them to look at issues,” Hill said. “We need to listen to those people who have expressed some interest in making those reforms.”
Hill and House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, will announce the 10 lawmakers to be appointed to the working group when Idaho’s Legislative Council meets at the state Capitol on Friday. They’ll include four Republican senators and one Democrat, along with four GOP House members and, again, one Democrat. One senator and one House member will be designated to co-chair the panel.
Hill said legislative staffers will be tasked to look into “what other states are doing” and lessons Idaho can learn from them.
In 2015, Idaho earned a D-minus grade for its government ethics, transparency and accountability from the Center for Public Integrity’s State Integrity Investigation, with the state’s low marks reflecting its lack of financial disclosure requirements, revolving door laws, and ethics enforcement, with no state ethics commission.
Idaho lawmakers have used interim working groups before to address major issues facing the state. Last year, working groups examined faith healing laws; the state’s health coverage gap; and invasive species issues. A year earlier, a 10-member working group studied the state’s tax system.
Hill said he and Bedke plan to issue a formal written charge for the new working group, to avoid confusion about the expectations for the panel. That was an issue with last year’s faith healing working group, he said, which held hearings but then had no deliberations and made no recommendations. “We didn’t have anything in writing, and some things fell apart there, as far as the interim working group was concerned,” Hill said.