TWIN FALLS • Thousands of dollars transferring from political fund to political fund might raise eyebrows, but it’s totally legal.
That might change.
Idaho legislators, upset at big-dollar donations against their colleagues, may take a look at campaign finance law next Legislative session.
The issue: Idaho House Majority Leader Mike Moyle and House Speaker Lawerence Denney have drawn their GOP peers’ ire for transferring money from the House Victory Fund — traditionally used to help incumbent Republicans — to GunPAC, which is targeting their colleagues, including House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts.
Magic Valley lawmakers like Reps. Fred Wood, Maxine Bell, Jim Patrick and House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke decried the actions, saying they condemned the use of their campaign donations used against incumbent legislators.
But there is no legal recourse for getting their money back, said Tim Hurst, chief deputy at the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office.
“When they give to a fund, to a (political action committee) ... the PAC determines how they’re going to spend it,” he said. Those controlling the PAC or fund can voluntarily give refunds, however.
That’s not the only finance issue making some Republicans uncomfortable.
GunPAC is one of four political action committees controlled by Lou Esposito, a Boise-based Republican consultant.
According to campaign finance documents, thousands of dollars transferred between Esposito’s four PACs in the last month.
Two of the PACs have the same treasurer, and three are located at 202 N. Ninth St. in Boise.
There’s nothing illegal about any of that, Hurst said.
While there’s contribution limit of $1,000 per individual, nothing stops Esposito’s multiple PACs from contributing $1,000 each to the candidates.
The law says that one person can’t put money into multiple PACs they control, then make several donations to one candidate through those PACs, Hurst said.
But because there are multiple donors to Esposito’s PACs, there’s no clear legal issue.
“It may be suspect,” Hurst said.
In addition to individual contributions, Esposito’s PACs have spent thousands on ad campaigns and flyers. That’s also OK, Hurst said.
“There are no limits to independent expenditures,” Hurst said.
The one fuzzy area: Some of the candidates who benefitted from Esposito PAC donations, like Danielle Ahrens of Sandpoint and Pam Stout of Bonners Ferry, have paid Spartac LLC for consultation, according to campaign finance forms.
Esposito also owns Spartac.
The Secretary of State’s website says the independence of a PAC expenditure may be compromised if the candidate and their donors use the same consultant.
But even that doesn’t mean the actions are illegal.
“The key to that phrase ... is the word ‘may,’” Hurst said. It’s possible for Esposito to structure his operations so everything is separate and legal, Hurst said — which is exactly what Esposito told the Associated Press he has done.
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, is one of the candidates targeted by Esposito’s PACs, which have endorsed Cameron’s GOP challenger, Douglas Pickett of Oakley, in the primary. Cameron said he wants the Legislature to examine campaign finance law to rein in actions like Esposito’s.
“In some cases, it looks like money is being laundered,” Cameron said. “It’s been shifted from one PAC to the next PAC to the next PAC. I think that should be illegal.”
“It certainly is, in my opinion, unethical,” he added.
Pickett hasn’t received any donations from Esposito’s PACs, nor did he know of any mailers or advertisements they had paid for on his behalf. The bulk of Pickett’s donations have come from Mini-Cassia residents, according to his campaign finance forms.
Pickett said the GOP infighting through PAC donations is another example of why incumbents like Cameron need to be voted out.
Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, said the Republican fight is “unfortunate,” and said changes to the finance laws might be needed to restore the public’s faith.
“It’s going to be a whole new game for Idaho politics,” Pence said.