State senators will soon get the chance to debate overhauling Idaho’s campaign finance system.
A senate committee on Wednesday endorsed a bill that would set up a new online system where candidates would have to tell the public where they got their money and how they’re spending it.
They would be fined $50 a day if they don’t file these reports on time under the measure. Candidates for local races would also have to disclose these records for the first time.
But a second bill that would make nonprofits or other groups release the names of their bigger donors if they spend more than $1,000 in independent expenditures is getting pushback.
“I think that Idaho will be worse off, your citizenry will be worse off, if voices that would like to participate in the political process are chilled because the price of doing so is disclosing their donors,” says Sean Parnell, vice president of public policy for the Philanthropy Roundtable.
Parnell’s organization is a group with conservative ties which advocates for freedom around charitable giving.
Right now, certain nonprofits can pay for TV ads or election mailers, but the true source of the money is never revealed in state campaign finance reports or federal tax filings.
In those ads, nonprofits typically cannot endorse a candidate for office, but they can refer to issues. Under the bill, even mentioning a candidate’s name would trigger a disclosure for those who donate more than $250.
“This bill is just too extreme for what Idaho needs right now,” says Tyler Martinez with the Institute for Free Speech.
“This isn’t really about transparency. This bill ends up requiring citizens to register and report to the government in order to speak on legislative issues,” Martinez says.
Both men were the only ones who spoke on the bill, which was taken up with only a few minutes left in the hearing.
The Senate State Affairs Committee adjourned Wednesday morning, but will continue the hearing on the bill again Friday.
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