During orientation for new lawmakers on Wednesday, Secretary of State Lawerence Denney discussed changes to Idaho’s Sunshine Laws his office plans to propose during the 2017 legislative session.
Among those changes:
-Increasing the penalty for campaign contribution violations from $250 to $2,500;
-Getting rid of the 16-day period before an election in which candidates must report $1,000 contributions within 48 hours, instead requiring candidates and PACs to report $1,000 contributions within 48 hours regardless of when received;
-Require online filing for all campaign finance reports;
-Require campaign finance reports for all candidates or measures that raise or spend more than $500, including previously exempt local elections, but excluding party positions like precinct committeemen.
Denney also said his office is working on legislation that would require more information on political action committee beneficial owners – those in the PAC who make decisions on how to spend the money — as well as a proposal that would shed more light on “gray money,” or hard-to-trace money passed from PAC to PAC and spent on independent expenditures.
Another change: A more solid definition of when an expenditure occurs. Currently, many candidates and committees don’t report campaign expenditures until after a bill has been paid, rather than when a service is ordered and the money is committed. That means reporting sometimes doesn’t happen until after the election, Denney said.
Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane, who ran against Denney in the 2014 Republican primary for Secretary of State, said the proposals are a good start to adding more transparency to Idaho’s elections, adding he hopes for more stakeholder input.
“It’s overdue,” McGrane said. “Our election laws as well as our campaign finance laws are overdue (for change).”
In his discussion with the new lawmakers, Denney referenced recent campaign finance controversies, specifically the recent West Ada recall election. School board elections are currently exempt from disclosure.
Denney himself has been involved with election controversies. During the 2012 primary, then-House Speaker Denney and House Majority Leader Mike Moyle directed House Republican Victory Fund money to political action committees that targeted House GOP incumbents by supporting Republican challengers. Money in those campaigns went through multiple PACs before being spent. Denney told the Associated Press at the time he intended the money to go to identifying Republican voters, not unseating incumbents, and if he could do it again, he would have put the money directly into those voter ID efforts instead of giving it to the PAC owner.
In a May interview with Idaho Reports, Denney discussed strengthening campaign finance laws. You can watch that episode here.
Some of his forthcoming proposals, like the online filing and the increase in fines for violations, are inspired by an attempted voter initiative spearheaded by former Democratic Secretary of State candidate Holli Woodings. While the initiative failed to get enough votes to get on the ballot, Denney said he liked many of the ideas – though he changed a few of them to make them more palatable to lawmakers.
“I just looked at what she had and picked the things I thought were doable in the Legislature,” he said. (In past interviews, Woodings has acknowledged the difficulty of getting some of those proposals through lawmakers, adding that’s why she chose to go through voter initiative.)
McGrane said eventually, he would like to see a central online repository for all election filings in the state. Currently, the Secretary of State’s website lists only statewide initiatives and candidates; Candidates for county, city or other election districts all file paperwork in different offices, making it hard to figure out who has donated in multiple local races.
Denney said he isn’t sure if the proposals will be in one bill or multiple pieces of legislation. He plans to shop around the language to lawmakers in coming weeks.
During Wednesday’s orientation, the new lawmakers responded well to Denney’s proposals, he said. “They saw the sunshine from the inside,” he said.