- Caleb Walsh illustration
Republican State Rep. Tom Loertscher is no fan of political transparency or accountability to the public. But even he can recognize the need to act in the face of increasing public pressure and national trends.
A ballot initiative proposed in 2016 nearly strengthened Idaho's campaign finance and lobbying laws. The proposed measure would have reduced the maximum political contribution, prohibited companies doing over $250,000 of business with the state from donating to state politicians at all, and added teeth to Idaho's current disclosure requirements, among other reforms.
It barely failed to make the ballot, due to new onerous requirements for signature gathering — requirements that Loertscher and other legislators put in place after the last time Idaho voters overruled them at the ballot box, repealing the deeply unpopular "Luna Laws."
Perhaps even more glaringly, Idaho is one of only two states — Michigan is the other — that fail to require financial disclosures from candidates for elected office.
So seeing the writing on the wall, Loertscher proposed his own financial disclosure law late last month. As he told the House State Affairs Committee, which he chairs, "Financial disclosure of elected officials is in your future, because this will happen at some point. The point of this legislation and the way this is written is to make this the least intrusive way I can think of for us to accomplish that." Read "least intrusive" as "least transparent."
The bill would have required all candidates for statewide, legislative, county or city office to annually disclose their sources of income, primary employer and job title, any entities they owned, any positions they held on boards, any stocks or bonds of which they owned more than $5,000 of, and any entity that paid them more than $5,000 in the last year. It would also require the disclosure of their spouse's name, occupation and employer.
It was filled with loopholes, including a lack of any method of verification. But at least it did something. I suspect that combination was what allowed it to gain unanimous bipartisan support from a legislative interim committee.
However, despite being only a half-hearted effort at transparency that was literally designed to be the least Loertscher could think to do, it still went too far for every other Republican on the committee. They voted it down from even receiving a print hearing, which would have allowed for amendments and is a standard courtesy given to lawmakers, especially a committee's chair.
Legislators provided a lot of excuses for why they didn't want to even discuss legislation regarding them having to reveal potential financial conflicts of interest. But it all boiled down to this: While this legislation might help voters, it could hurt lawmakers, and ultimately, voters should just trust them.
Perhaps most ironic of those opposing the measure was North Idaho's Heather Scott. She made news last year complaining of a conspiracy against her, and of hidden corruption among legislative leaders, and she lodged scandalous, unsubstantiated claims about other women legislators. Yet when faced with the opportunity to increase the sunlight on all legislators, she voted no.
In my experience, the people who most often trade in conspiracy theories frequently have the most to hide. It's unimaginable to them that the rest of the world isn't filled with the same repugnant, slimy, manipulative scheming that takes place between their own two ears.
Ultimately, when these conspiracists have an opportunity to bring in sunlight that will reveal everyone's potential faults, including their own, they vote no. Because they know for certain they have something to hide and can't be completely sure about everyone else.
In Heather Scott's case, she's already defended white nationalists on Facebook, proudly displayed the confederate flag in a local parade, voted to allow deadbeat dads to get away with failing to pay child support, and tried to deny same-sex couples equal rights when filing their taxes. What the heck is she still hiding that's worse than all that? ♦
John T. Reuter, a former Sandpoint City Councilman, has been active in protecting the environment, expanding LGBT rights and Idaho's GOP politics.