Opinion

West Views: A more civil, but still entitled Idaho GOP

Lewiston Tribune

The weekend Idaho Republican Central Committee conclave at Idaho Falls generated none of the heat of last summer’s Meltdown in Moscow when the state GOP convention deadlocked.

At this tame affair, there was no talk about returning to the gold standard.

Or ending the direct election of U.S. senators.

Or even getting out of the United Nations — although it could not get out of town without endorsing the Bible as suitable material for the public schools and siccing the congressional delegation on the U.S. Forest Service.

Civility, however, does not mask a pair of disturbing votes.

First was the party’s decision to stick with its closed primary in 2016. That would mark the third election cycle in which voting in Idaho’s real election — the one that handles the all-important GOP nomination — is limited only to those willing to publicly affiliate with the Republican Party.

Closing the primary has had the desired result — driving out independents, casual voters and those who simply don’t or can’t register as a partisan — from the primary election.

Ever since, the share of the voting-age population involved in primary elections has fallen below 17 percent and sometimes as low as 16.1 percent.

So far, it has not — as its architects had hoped — pushed the party more to the right. But in Idaho’s Panhandle, closing the primary has put a bull’s-eye on moderate lawmakers.

Dennis Tucker is the chairman of the GOP in Bear Lake County, where the share of voter participation in the primary dropped from 64 percent to 29 percent. His attempt to open up the primary was rebuffed.

Next up was the central committee’s embrace of diluting Idaho’s 1974 Sunshine Law compelling political campaigns to disclose their sources of money and how it gets spent.

As things now stand, party committees that raise and spend more than $5,000 are subject to reporting requirements — as are political action committees that raise or spend more than $500. At that point, those groups are obligated to itemize every contribution above $50 and every expenditure of $25 or more.

If state lawmakers listen to the GOP Central Committee, they’ll pass a law exempting party committees from reporting requirements until they reach the $20,000 threshold. Even then, no contribution less than $200 need be disclosed. Same goes for any expenditure of less than $100.

Their argument?

Inflation. In today’s terms, $5,000 is not a big number.

Maybe not to them. But that amount of money still carries a lot of influence with politicians.

Shielding committees spending less than $20,000 from public disclosure casts a huge umbrella on a reporting system that already has its limits. For instance, voters remain in the dark about who is giving money to which candidates from June 16 — the post-primary period — until Oct. 11, less than a month before the general election.

Even Secretary of State Lawerence (Boss) Denney is cool to this idea. This is the same Denney who as House speaker three years ago joined House Majority Leader Mike Moyle in using funds from the speaker’s House Victory fund and other accounts such as GunPAC to target six GOP incumbents in the primary election, including then-state Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly.

Later that year, voters saw another assault on the Sunshine Law when proponents of former state schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s education overhaul package sought to conceal where they got more than $200,000 — until then-Secretary of State Ben Ysursa insisted.

Idaho is a one-party state.

Its elected officials are under no obligation to show how they earn a living or when their private interests conflict with their public trust.

There is no independent ethics commission.

Voters don’t have a lot of tools for self-defense. Campaign finance disclosure is one of them.

To be sure, the GOP gathering was not marked by the usual fire and fury. Just the same, you saw a display of entitlement from a political party that doesn’t seem to mind an ever-narrowing band of insiders calling the tune.

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