It’s rare to look at a campaign finance report and smile.
Normally, you look for big interest groups donating to a politician and wonder whether all that money will influence their vote somewhere down the line. Or you look at the big donations from those interests and think, “I know what they’re after.”
That’s the way you might feel about the recent campaign finance disclosures around Proposition 1, the ballot initiative to re-legalize slot-machine-like instant racing terminals.
Look at the disclosures from the Committee to Save Idaho Horse Racing, which supports the measure, and you’ll find that all of their $3.4 million war chest comes from Treasure Valley Racing, which stands to open the largest instant racing parlor in the state if Prop. 1 passes. Look at the disclosures for Idaho United Against Prop. 1, and you’ll find that virtually all of their $2.7 million was donated by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which operates an extensive casino operation that would be hurt by new competition.
Together, the amount of money these two groups wield dwarfs the amount of money involved in the race for governor.
Listen to their rhetoric, and you’ll hear about the threat of casinos all over Idaho or the need to restore the horse racing industry a future stolen by lawmakers. Look at the financial disclosures, and you quickly realize you’re dealing with two gambling operations with competing profit motives duking it out, not on the field of commerce, but through ads that harp on everything other than the true motivations of those purchasing them.
Is it any wonder voters have become cynical? Their attitude only reflects the more fundamental cynicism of our campaign process, where politicians and ballot measures are marketed in the same manner as cigarettes.
The nationwide rise of populist anger against the political establishment, as unresponsive as it has often been to the needs and concerns of everyday people, has been met with a great deal of hand-wringing. And there are reasons to be concerned.
But there are reasons to be hopeful too.
If you want to look at a campaign finance report and smile, look at the report filed by Idahoans for Healthcare. In four months, donors gave about $510,000 in financial support to the group that backs Proposition 2, which would expand Medicaid to those in the gap.
There are a few interest group donations sprinkled in there — a big gift from the Idaho Hospital Association, for example, and others from the Idaho Medical Association.
But the bulk of donations come from regular Idahoans tired of watching their neighbors suffer needlessly. In Idaho Falls, John and Martha Tanner gave $80. Gary Wallace gave $200. Brian O’Byrne came up with $500. The list of mostly small, individual contributions goes on for 16 pages.
The campaign for Proposition 2 has been built by regular people driven by conscience. They’ve devoted time, money and willpower to solve a problem the Legislature has proved unequal to, year after year, even as polls showed the vast majority of voters wanted it. There is hope in the example they’ve given us.
You can glimpse the power of ordinary people in the small army of canvassers who spread across the state to gather the ludicrously high number of signatures needed to put the question to the people — a hurdle that was raised after voters sought to term limit lawmakers more than two decades ago and again after they defeated the Luna Laws.
If voters expand Medicaid, those in the gap won’t have a prominent figure to thank. They can thank a legion of volunteers whose names won’t be marked in history books, but who gave selflessly for what they thought was right.
Whether they win or lose, the advocates of Prop. 2 have shown us a better kind of politics.