Politics & Government

Making officials disclose their income puts ‘a target on our back,’ lawmaker says

The Idaho Statehouse in Boise.
The Idaho Statehouse in Boise. Idaho Statesman file

Idaho is one of just two states that do not require elected officials to reveal any information about their finances, a tool that can help indicate conflicts of interest with pending bills and ordinances.

And that is OK with the House State Affairs Committee, which on Wednesday shot down its own chairman’s proposal requiring elected officials annually disclose their financial interests.

The legislation followed a summer of discussions about campaign finance issues by an interim committee of lawmakers. That group unanimously recommended Wednesday’s bill, said State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona.

Loertscher said he brought forth the bill not out of desire, but necessity.

“This is not a heartburn issue to me. This is not one of those things that I think is absolutely essential that we do,” he said. “But let me say this: Financial disclosure of elected officials is in your future because this will happen at some point.”

He said if lawmakers do not do something soon, Idaho residents will put some sort of disclosure requirement in place through a ballot initiative.

“No one in this place has resisted this more than I,” Loertscher said. “The only purpose of this (legislation) is to make sure we do this in the least intrusive way possible. Because, in our future if an initiative comes along, who in the Legislature is going to have the nerve, if you will, to vote against the initiative of the people when they have decided that they want to know this information? You will not have nerve enough to vote against that and to repeal it.”

Under his proposal, all state, county and city elected officials each year would have to file a statement declaring their occupation, and any sources of income of more than $5,000. They also would have to report any ownership interest of $5,000 or more they have in any other entitives, and the names and employers of any spouse or other adult household members.

The requirements would also apply to candidates for office.

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said campaign finance needs to be addressed when it comes to PACs and donations.

“But to focus on legislators’ sources of income and spousal sources of income is to put a target on our back to many groups and individuals nationwide that would work to silence various ideologies, various voices by attacking the economics,” Barbieri said. “We have seen that on a national scale with (Fox News’ Bill) O’Reilly and (Sean) Hannity. ... This information is used as a sword to attack.”

Barbieri, who motioned to send back the bill, said he “does not agree that the Idaho public thinks this body is full of dishonest individuals. I just don’t buy that. I don’t think that this bill needs to see the light of day. Let’s deal with the initiative when it comes.”

Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer and also running this year for governor, said she wanted more discussion on the issue, especially since the interim committee examined it. She moved unsuccessfully to introduce the bill.

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, also said he would like a public hearing on the proposal. But he said Loertscher’s draft “needs to be cleaned up,” specifically mentioning whether unrelated household members should disclose and needed clarification on declaring income sources.

The committee, in a split vote, agreed to send the bill back to Loertscher for more work.

The chairman spoke after the vote with The Spokesman-Review: “What am I going to do? I’m not going to get it out of here. … This is State Affairs. I don’t ever presume to try to out-guess this committee.”

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell