Payday loan group bought ads in tight Idaho House race

Thompson

It took a lawsuit to shake the information loose, but a Colorado-based PAC dis-

closed 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 on Friday, the group reported receiving $25,000 from the Community Financial Services Association of Alexandria, Va.

The report says $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. “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. 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.

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