Last week, the Idaho House State Affairs Committee held a disturbing hearing that illustrated that some Idaho legislators don’t understand that they represent the people of Idaho, not themselves.
State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher (R-Bone) proposed introduction of his bill to require Idaho candidates and officeholders for state, county and city offices to file an annual disclosure specifying their and their spouse’s employer and occupation, all business entities in which they are an officer or any that paid them $5,000 or more in the past year or in which they have ownership over $5,000, plus a list boards they serve on. Of note, Idaho is one of only two states that does not require such disclosures.
At the hearing, Loertscher sought merely to have his bill printed and discussed by the committee. That request fell on deaf ears.
According to the Spokesman Review’s Betsy Russell, Rep. Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens) moved to kill the measure stating: “I don’t see why this should see the light of day.” He rationalized his opposition by stating: “This is not benign. This information is used as a sword to attack sources of income of individuals wherein statements of ideology are made, to silence them.”
In the end, the only committee members who backed the measure were Loertscher, Rep. Jason Monks (R-Nampa), Rep. Elaine Smith (D-Pocatello) and Rep. Paulette Jordan (D-Plummer).
This vote can best be understood by reviewing a column on the Gem State Patriot News website (view here) by David Ripley, the head of Idaho Chooses Life. He wrote “[b]eware those “good government” liberals seeking to fix election laws. . . .They want to force legislators and candidates to disclose their financial interests and the financial interests of family members. All of which is meant to discourage citizens from even filing for office. And if they do – the media and Democrats will have plenty of new targets at which to aim their bullets.”
This seems to reflect the view that disclosure merely provides political opponents with a powerful tool to harm their opponents.
This concern was amply reflected in Barbieri’s remarks. He claimed that his wife had been fired from a job because of press coverage of his political activities and asserted that the press was out to get conservative talk show hosts (I missed the link on both points to this measure). Rep. Steven Harris (R-Meridian) (again from Russell’s report) went further, stating that the bill might require disclosure of “awkward” information”. That is the real crux of why the measure was killed.
Also, these legislators assumed that only they would be targeted based upon their personal disclosures. What they forget is that they’ll have similar information on their opponents. If questionable ties are unearthed, these members would have information that could benefit them. It will be a level playing field and really turn on the relevance of the particular issue.
What was overlooked is that the purpose of personal financial disclosure is to shine a light on those in public service. That focus allows the public to give context to votes and positions taken, bills sponsored and decisions made by officials and candidates. The public has a right to be able to weigh those points.
At root, it is not about the impact on these particular legislators. It is about the public’s right to know.
But, the paranoia manifest in last week’s hearing ran deep.
Russell quoted Rep. Christy Zito (R-Hammett) as stating: “I feel like we’re on the edge of a George Orwell book with thought police here, asking people to disclose what they think, down the road, may be a conflict of interest.” I’m struggling a bit to see the link between Orwell’s controlled society in 1984 and this measure to apply sunshine to the activities of elected officials and candidates.
What now? The committee should reconsider the issue. Let the bill be printed and have a full committee hearing with witnesses from all sides – followed by a vigorous and open debate.
According to Russell, Rep. Heather Scott (R-Blanchard) justified her opposition because the bill didn’t apply to school officials. That could easily be fixed by an amendment. Several committee members indicated they had proposed amendments that they thought would improve the measure. Maybe these changes will soften some of the opposition.
The House State Affairs Committee made a serious mistake last week. Now is their chance to reverse course, have a fully open discussion and then make a final decision to advance or block personal financial disclosure.