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Idaho Legislature

The Idaho Capitol building is seen Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015, in Boise.

State legislators are returning to the state Capitol to begin the 2019 session.

One of the top orders of business should be campaign finance reform. The groundwork has been laid, and we expect legislators to make quick work of the task at hand.

Unlike the interim committee looking at commercial truck fees, the campaign finance reform interim committee actually got to work and came up with a host of recommendations that it will pitch to the full Legislature, from requiring more frequent reporting, to expanding disclosure requirements to all levels of government, to changing rules for independent expenditures.

We support the slate of recommendations and urge legislators to pass them.

Among the proposed changes:

  • Reporting requirements would expand to all levels of state and local government in Idaho, once $500 or more is raised or spent.
  • All reports would go into a single, searchable database to be operated by the Secretary of State’s office.
  • Reporting would be required monthly for the four months prior to each election, including primary and general elections.
  • Fines would start immediately for those who fail to file disclosure reports on time, rather than first allowing a grace period.

The panel also agreed on a second piece of legislation to make changes to rules for independent campaign expenditures and electioneering communications.

For a state that prides itself on its citizen legislature, working in the “people’s house,” and openness and accessibility to the government, these reforms are a no-brainer.

The bottom line for us is that if someone or a group of interested parties is giving money to a candidate, we want to know about it. If someone or a group is spending money on electioneering communications, we want to know who’s behind it and why.

We understand some concerns among a couple of the legislators on the committee about quelling free speech because donors might be scared to donate if they knew they would be identified in campaign finance reports. We understand it, but we just don’t buy it.

This argument concerns us, and it will concern us if some of our legislators this session start trying to make the free speech argument in an effort to kill this legislation.

By saying that someone won’t give money to a campaign because the public might find out and get angry with them for it or that they might not produce electioneering communications for fear of reprisals, you are indeed advocating for secrecy in campaign financing. In other words, you want individuals or organizations to donate to campaigns and do electioneering without anyone finding out who’s behind it all.

That’s just not how democracy should work. We can’t have “dark money” involved in Idaho politics and we can’t have secrecy in campaign finance. Openness in government begins with openness in our elections process.

Further, it’s not a free speech issue. By telling an individual or group to identify themselves in campaign financing reports, you’re not infringing their free speech. If you locked them up in jail for it, that’s a violation of free speech. Simply requiring a person to own up to their speech doesn’t infringe that right.

Just to be sure, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office weighed in and told the lawmakers that all the changes were constitutional and could be defended in court.

We support the committee’s work and we urge legislators to pass this set of reforms.

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Idaho Press editorials are based on the majority opinions of its editorial board. Not all opinions are unanimous. Members of the board are Publisher Matt Davison and community members Buzz Beauchamp, Nicole Bradshaw, Rex Hanson, John Jolley and Kathleen Tuck. Editor Scott McIntosh is a nonvoting member.

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