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Politics & Government

Mayor Bieter Hired His Chief Lobbyist For His Campaign While She Still Worked For Boise

James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

Amber Pence, the City of Boise’s former chief lobbyist, was hired by and worked for Mayor Dave Bieter’s re-election campaign while still employed by the city.

Pence, who is a Democratic campaign veteran in both Idaho and Oregon, tendered her resignation to the city at the end of May, according to city spokesman Mike Journee. She then used her accrued vacation time, Journee said, with her final employment date June 28.

Bieter’s campaign manager, Robert West, said she was hired in June to work as the mayor’s chief fundraiser, a position she previously held under Bieter more than 10 years ago, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Pence had worked as Boise’s chief lobbyist since Sept. 2013 and was paid about $91,500 annually at the time of her resignation.

Journee said city code doesn’t bar employees from working on political campaigns on their own time.

“If she’s on vacation, she can do what she wants to do,” he said.

When asked if she was promised another job following November’s election, West said he wasn’t involved in those conversations, but, “No one has a job there unless we win. That’s what we’re focused on here.”

Campaign finance records show the four full-time employees of Bieter’s campaign are technically employees of the Idaho Democratic Party in order to receive health insurance, despite the fact that the mayoral office is nonpartisan.

But West said Pence has opted for more comprehensive and expensive health insurance for her family. She instead has continued to receive coverage through the city via COBRA, which is paid by the Bieter campaign, according to campaign finance records.

COBRA is a federal law mandating that employers allow eligible workers to stay on a health insurance plan after they resign or were laid off, with the employee bearing the full cost of coverage.

The Bieter campaign has paid $2,454.50 since July, the month after Pence officially resigned from the city, for COBRA coverage.

“We're proud to provide our staff a living wage and benefits in a time when campaign staff are often underpaid and overworked,” West said in a statement, noting that campaign staffers wouldn’t be able to get health insurance if they had chosen a different payroll processor.

Idaho Democratic Party spokeswoman Lindsey Johnson said they charge the Bieter campaign $75 a month to process its payroll and have worked with more than a dozen campaigns in a similar capacity since 2014.

“The payroll system is how we make sure Democratic campaign workers have access to health care,” Johnson said in a statement. 

When asked about whether it was appropriate for the state Democratic Party to be involved in what’s technically a nonpartisan race, she said, "We would provide payroll service to any of the mayoral or city council candidates who requested those services, even though the race is nonpartisan, as our job is to elect Democrats at every level of office."

Bieter’s campaign has raised $222,223 through the end of September and has more than $106,000 cash on hand.

City Council President Lauren McLean was close behind with $208,150, though nearly a quarter of her donations came from people living outside of Idaho.

When asked if she felt that would translate to fewer votes at the ballot box, McLean responded in a statement that she has a lot of local support. She said the vast majority of donors live in Idaho, with most living in Boise.

“My family is all over this country, and I've built a wide network of people amazing colleagues and peers (including fellow young, progressive leaders) who are supportive of me,” she said. “I don't think that's a bad thing.”

McLean has far more cash in her account than Bieter, with more than $140,000 coming into October.

Rebecca Arnold, president of the Ada County Highway District Commission, has raised $10,425 and has loaned her campaign $21,545.

Former Boise Mayor Brent Coles, who resigned his office in 2003 in disgrace and admitted to spending taxpayer money on trips to New York and Broadway show tickets, raked in $4,695 since Sept. 1.

Crescent Rim Neighborhood Association President Cortney Nielsen raised $450. She lists a $538 deficit, but reported no debt or loans.

Adriel Martinez has raised no money so far.

Records for Wayne Richey show he took in no money, but he spent $1,233.

Deputy Boise City Clerk Jamie Heinzerling said she’s in contact with Richey and Nielsen to reconcile these discrepancies. The city has never fined any candidate for turning in an incomplete or inaccurate report, Heinzerling said, but state law allows city officials to charge $50 a day until a candidate come into compliance.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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