It is interesting how folks complain when the tables are turned.
In November, Gov. Butch Otter formed a new political action committee called Otter PAC. The PAC website is viewable here. On that site, the following purpose is given:
“Otter PAC was established to assist grassroots efforts for those who care deeply about the future of Idaho and want to make a difference in leadership and service to their county and state.
All contributions to Otter PAC go back into the community to directly help local, county, and state races, including the election of precinct committeeman.”
Otter told Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review that he would likely focus on Idaho legislators who “have been good partners and supportive.” He went on to emphasize, “I’m not going to go out and take revenge. This is more a positive attitude, and a positive effort. You want to continue to support those people that have supported you.”
Some of the most hostile comments to Otter’s effort came from Bonneville County GOP chair Doyle Beck who vigorously opposed Otter in his reelection effort in 2014.
Beck encouraged the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee to denounce Otter’s action by resolution. They did (the official wording of the resolution of denunciation is apparently still being drafted by the party executive committee).
This is the same local GOP group that earlier this year earned national attention for a bizarre newsletter that claimed Muslims were “infiltrating” Idaho and were“ready to rise up and kill” non-Muslims in Idaho.
Beck expressed fear that Otter’s new organization might target precinct chairs that were, like him, hostile to the governor. What he is really concerned about is his potential 2016 reelection effort.
It is unclear if Beck will run again in 2016 for county party chair but, if he does, he will likely be opposed by many local Republicans who are tired of his use of the position to push his own ideology rather than build the local Republican Party. Obviously, Otter’s new PAC, if it focuses on Bonneville County precinct races, might make a Beck win harder to pull off.
Not content to remain unheard, former GOP congressional candidate and current Region 7 GOP chair Bryan Smith also weighed in and told Local News 8: “Well, what if somebody wanted somebody else for governor? In fact, he had a challenger; Russ Fulcher ran for governor and got 44 percent of the vote. So what does that mean? He’s not going to support those people who do a great job informing their neighbors of what’s going on in the Republican Party because they’re a Russ Fulcher supporter?”
These two gentlemen and their supporters are apparently terrified that Gov. Otter will use his PAC to raise big bucks and then spend them on GOP candidates, including precinct chairs, they personally oppose.
The delicious irony is that Doyle Beck specifically contributed to and worked with a secretive group that targeted the governor and Attorney General Wasden in last year’s Republican primary. It is unclear whether Smith was involved.
That organization went by the self-parodying name “Integrity in Government PAC” and went after GOP candidates opposed by the organizers (the sole non-Republican targeted was Democrat John Radford who unsuccessfully challenged Idaho Falls Rep. Janet Trujillo). They only succeeded in one GOP race, the primary win of current Secretary of State Lawerence Denney.
As noted at the time by the Idaho media, some of the contributions to Integrity in Government PAC were rather curious in origin. I just relooked at the campaign disclosures and the following jumped out to me.
2012 challenger to Rep. Mike Simpson, M.C. “Chick” Heilson and his spouse contributed a full $12,000 to Intergity in Politics despite filing a congressional financial disclosure two years before showing no assets (homes and minimal personal assets do not have to be disclosed) and a primary source of income from social security.
A $12,000 contribution also came from a Provo, Utah, bankruptcy attorney, three years into his career (as a fellow bankruptcy practitioner, that raised my eyebrows), and his spouse. The direct tie to Idaho? Apparently, the lawyer formerly interned for former congressional candidate Bryan Smith’s law firm (this same gentleman and his wife also contributed $2,600 each to Smith’s congressional campaign). There is no indication they have ever made any other political contributions to anyone else in Utah or Idaho.
A full $10,000 flowed in from an Orem, Utah, limited liability company whose principal was in his 20s, and $10,000 from a Jackson Hole, Wyoming, LLC that seems to have no actual, active business activity. Neither entity has made any other contributions to any other candidate or cause.
Idaho Code § 67-6614 provides “[n]o contribution shall be made and no expenditure shall be incurred, directly or indirectly, in a fictitious name, anonymously, or by one (1) person through an agent, relative or other person in such a manner as to conceal the identity of the source of the contribution.”
While suspicious, it is possible that there was a reasonable explanation for these contributions. But, none was ever provided in the 2014 primary. That was a real disservice to Idaho voters.
I think Gov. Otter’s Otter PAC may serve to prevent such abuses in the future.
On Jan. 9, the PAC will have its first fundraising event in Boise. Any contributions or expenditures by Otter PAC will be fully disclosed as required by state law, allowing the public to determine the appropriateness of any action taken by the organization. That war chest will give the governor the opportunity to serve as a leavening influence on Idaho GOP politics.
If Integrity in Government PAC or some new variation arises, Otter PAC can provide an aggressive counterbalance. Even the possibility of doing so will serve as a deterrent.
As the highest elected GOP official in Idaho, Otter’s leadership is needed. He deserves kudos for stepping up.
Written by Steve Taggart, Idaho Politics Weekly Contributor
Steve Taggart is an Idaho Falls attorney specializing in bankruptcy (www.MaynesTaggart.com). He has an extensive background in politics and public policy. He can be reached at email@example.com.