Panel works to curb conflicts of interest

Loertscher

An interim legislative committee is recommending that state and local candidates be required to disclose basic information regarding their personal finances, as a condition of running for public office.

The proposal, which was authored by Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone, drew unanimous support during a meeting of the Campaign Finance Reform Legislative Work Group in Boise on Monday.

Loertscher plans to introduce the measure during the 2018 legislative session, which begins Jan. 8. He said the disclosure requirements are intended to help Idaho voters determine whether elected officials have a conflict of interest.

“This draft doesn’t anticipate that we would report our income; in fact, it’s a deliberate attempt not to do that,” he said. “It would only disclose possible conflicts of interest.”

The legislation is patterned after similar requirements in Utah. It would apply to all statewide elected offices, as well as to any legislative candidates and those running for any board of county commissioner, city council or mayoral positions.

The bill asks candidates to disclose the name of their employer, their job title, the name and nature of any business they own or co-own, any board of director positions they hold, and the names of any individuals or entities from whom they received at least $5,000 in income during the previous year. They also would be required to disclose any stocks or bonds they own that are valued at more than $5,000, and would have the option to disclose their ownership in any real property that might cause a conflict of interest.

Idaho currently is one of only two states that have no financial disclosure requirements for political candidates.

Under Loertscher’s bill, candidates would file a personal financial disclosure along with their statement of candidacy. The disclosure would be updated annually.

In other action, the working group discussed several other potential campaign finance reforms.

One draft proposal, for example, would require candidates to report campaign contributions and expenditures on a monthly basis, and expand the reporting requirements to all city, county and local elected officials — including school board trustees and highway district commissioners.

Under current law, only statewide and legislative candidates are required to report campaign contributions and expenditures, while the reporting dates are limited to just before and just after a primary or general election.

The draft also directs the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office to develop an online database where voters can search campaign finance reports. In addition to statewide and legislative candidates, the database must accommodate reports from candidates for local offices, as well as from lobbyists and political action committees.

Secretary of State Lawerence Denney estimated it would cost about $1.2 million to develop such a database. The interim committee unanimously supported a budget request for that amount.

The work group also discussed prohibiting legislative candidates from accepting campaign contributions during a legislative session.

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, noted there’s already an “unwritten rule” discouraging House and Senate incumbents from accepting donations during a session, primarily to keep lobbyists from exerting undue influence. The rule doesn’t apply to challengers, though, which some lawmakers view as an unfair advantage.

Wood said nothing in his draft bill would prevent candidates from spending their own money on their campaigns during the session. Contributions from individuals also could be exempted, so the fundraising restriction would only apply to donations from lobbyists and political action committees.

The working group seemed supportive of his proposal, as well as the campaign finance reforms, but took no formal action.

Revised drafts of both proposals will be reviewed during the work group’s next meeting, which will take place after the legislative session begins. A recommendation to move forward with one or both bills could come at that time.

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