This year’s high-spending 2018 Idaho Republican mega-primary has been repeatedly analyzed, but one aspect that has been somewhat overlooked is the success and failure of the various independent expenditure efforts by different groups.
In Idaho, “‘[i]ndependent expenditure" means any expenditure by a person for a communication expressly advocating the election, passage or defeat of a clearly identified candidate . . . that is not made with the cooperation or with the prior consent of, or in consultation with, or at the consent of, or in consultation with, or at the request of a suggestion of, a candidate . . . .”
Generally speaking, an independent expenditure opposes or supports a candidate but is not coordinated with another candidate.
I looked at the efforts waged by Idaho Freedom Action, Inc., the Idaho Realtors PAC, the Idaho Prosperity Fund, and the NRA Political Victory Fund.
Idaho Freedom Action, Inc. is the political arm of the conservative Idaho Freedom Foundation and it was extremely active in the 2018 primary. Its strategy was to “educate” voters by pointing out votes or positions in a somewhat neutral tone. Unlike most independent expenditure spenders, this group does not specify who it supports and opposes.
This year Idaho Freedom Action spent money in 20 specific races including those of Republican gubernatorial candidate Brad Little, Rep. Heather Scott, Rep. Ron Nate, legislative candidate Julianne Young and others.
By matching results against conservative efforts to oppose and support various candidates, I can identify which of the “conservative choice” candidates won out of the 20 candidates targeted by Idaho Freedom Action. Since the Freedom Foundation backs conservative ideals, that is a reasonable correlation. By my count only 7 candidates targeted by Idaho Freedom Action won — for a winning percentage of only 35%.
In contrast, the Idaho Realtors PAC performed much better. This is the political arm of the Idaho Realtors, which raises money from its membership statewide. It has one of the largest political action committee war chests in Idaho.
Idaho Realtors PAC put independent expenditures in 14 Idaho races. In addition to backing Brad Little, the PAC also involved itself in 13 legislative contests, winning 12. Its overall rate of success was an astounding 93%.
Another major player in the independent expenditure game was the Idaho Prosperity Fund, the political side of the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry.
Like the Idaho Realtors, it focused on 14 races, including backing Little. Many of the 13 legislative races were generally similar to the Idaho Realtors with some variation in the specific targets. The Idaho Prosperity Fund won 11 races this year and lost 3 contests. That is an overall winning percentage of 79%.
One of the surprising efforts (for its lack of success) was the NRA Political Victory Fund. Idaho is generally considered a strongly pro-gun state. Yet, the leading pro-Second Amendment group came up short in both races it targeted with independent expenditures, for a sorry winning percentage of 0%.
Both contests targeted were in Eastern Idaho. The NRA backed two House incumbents, Rep. Tom Loertscher (R-Bone) and Rep. Julie VanOrden (R-Blackfoot). Both were House committee chairs with strong gun records.
But, Loertscher had crossed some gun rights advocates by arguing some proposed gun legislation would be counterproductive. VanOrden was targeted on the issue of sex education. Both lost to ultra-conservative Republican challengers who are both also strongly pro-gun.
In the general election, expect to see more independent expenditures, most likely in the Jordan versus Little contest but also in highly contested races up and down the ballot.