BOISE — The second of two campaign finance reform bills to broaden reporting requirements was held in the Senate State Affairs Committee on Friday, though the first bill passed unanimously earlier this week.
The bill, recommended by a bipartisan interim committee, includes new rules for electioneering communications, lengthening the reporting time and setting a standard for donations that must be reported based on the amount given. The committee voted unanimously to hold the bill at the request of its sponsor, the panel’s chair, Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston.
“We knew this part would be hard,” Lodge said.
Lodge said the interim committee “might” have a chance to meet and come up with an amended version of the bill this session.
SB 1114 defines electioneering communication as “any paid communication to members of the public who are voters or potential voters for public office or a ballot measure,” that takes place from the candidate filing deadline to midnight on Election Day. The bill is intended to increase transparency by making public whoever donates to political candidates.
“The public wants to know what’s happening in campaign finance,” Lodge said. “They are concerned about the lack of transparency.”
Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, who served on the interim committee, posed several questions with the bill’s language and its expanded reporting window.
“I have been trying to find a way to mitigate some of the negatives with having that expanded window,” Souza said. “There was a reason that we put this in a separate bill — this electioneering communication we knew was a complicated issue that would be difficult for some.”
The bill states that the identification of each person who, during the reporting period, made a donation of $250 or more to the person making the “independent expenditure,” such as a nonprofit entity, to the candidate or political cause should be reported, as well as any individual donating $1,000 or more on their own.
Current law’s definition of electioneering communication doesn’t specify it be paid, and the reporting threshold is just 30 days before a primary election, and 60 days before a general election. Those in favor of the bill argued that because the nature of elections has evolved over the years, leading to longer campaigns, extending the reporting period was necessary.
Several nonprofits, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, Right to Life of Idaho and the Idaho Freedom Foundation, expressed concern with the bill’s language being “overly broad,” and how it might affect individual donor privacy.
The bill’s broad definition of electioneering communication, Amy Little, president and CEO for Idaho Nonprofit Center said, could lead a nonprofit to have to disclose their complete donor list to the public. She said this could cause donors to pull their funding, affecting many local nonprofits.
Little gave an example of a Catholic woman, who is a breast cancer survivor and donates to Planned Parenthood each year to fund mammograms for women who can’t afford them.
“She prefers to keep that donation private because of the repercussions within her own church,” Little said. “We know that Planned Parenthood participates in electioneering communication as defined by this piece of legislation. ... That individual may choose not to make that donation because then suddenly her gift is public.”
Idaho Nonprofit Center, Little expressed, hasn’t taken an official stance on the bill — they’re simply concerned with the language.
Though Lodge said she “thoroughly understood” the nonprofits’ concerns, she also encourages them to create a PAC, or political action committee, which could alleviate the problem of disclosing individual donors’ addresses and other personal information.
“I think we need more education, not only for those people that are bringing this, but also those that are opposing it, to make sure we have a clear understanding,” said Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise. “I think our goal should still be able to try and move this forward, but to understand it better.”
The other campaign finance reform bill, which unanimously passed the same committee this week, requires that all campaign finance reporting, from all levels of government in Idaho, go into a central, searchable database maintained by Idaho’s Secretary of State.