BOISE — City Council President and mayoral candidate Lauren McLean makes an appearance on the notorious website WikiLeaks, but she says it’s not in relation to any fundraising for political candidates or “dark money.”
In March 2015, an email from McLean advertising a progressive investor event was forwarded to then-White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, inviting him to come to Ketchum in order to bolster support for the Boulder-White Clouds to become a U.S. National Monument. McLean said Podesta never came, and she was thrilled to see that John Stocks, the director of the National Education Association and an investor with McLean’s Idaho Progressive Investors Network, forwarded the message.
This was then released publicly on WikiLeaks once Podesta’s emails were hacked during the 2016 presidential campaign and when Podesta was serving as the chair of Hilary Clinton’s campaign.
“John (Stocks) was like, ‘If we can get Podesta to come, maybe we can take him on a hike to see the Boulder-White Clouds and maybe that would help get (President) Obama to start thinking about making it a national monument,’” she told the Idaho Press Thursday.
These emails were included in a packet of documents sent to the Idaho Press earlier this week alleging McLean is part of a “dark money” political fundraising effort to shield progressive donors from campaign finance laws that would require them to disclose their identities. McLean denied this and said the decade-old organization, the Idaho Progressive Investors Network, she founded has advocated for more transparency in government and simply connects those who want to contribute to progressive causes to organizations working on those issues throughout Idaho.
“I’ve been engaged in attempting to connect people to the causes they care about and to create spaces for them to engage and impact the future of this state,” McLean said. “That’s what this investor network does for donors. We are a group of people who care deeply about education and public lands and the future of our state.”
She said the group has helped connect its members to groups like the campaign to expand Medicaid last year as well as voter access efforts for Latinos in Canyon County. None of the funds her group raises go directly to candidates but directs its members to donate to specific causes. However, none of the names of its members are public.
“These people are members of the investor network, but because this information relates to their financial decisions, they ask for privacy,” she said in a text message. “Just like a law firm wouldn’t list clients, a small business rarely shares their client list, etc.”
Until this year, McLean was listed as the organization’s primary contact on all of its paperwork with the Idaho Secretary of State. Milt Gillespie, who also serves on Boise’s Planning and Zoning Commission, has replaced McLean on the organization’s paperwork. McLean said this was a decision by the board because, although she started the group, it is an entity separate from her and she is merely contracted to complete the work.
McLean also owns and operates a philanthropy consulting business called The Confluence Group, and she said in recent years most of her focus has been on the Idaho Progressive Investors Network.
Also in the email forwarded to Podesta was an informational item for progressive group Better Idaho. This group, which bills itself as the state’s “most ambitious communications organization,” works to promote progressive causes statewide and does not contribute directly to candidates. McLean said the group was advertised in the 2015 email because it is an organization several of her members support.