Undisclosed Lobbying: Idaho’s secret economy
By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports
An almost half a million dollar ecosystem has developed around the Idaho Statehouse, built around peddling access and persuasion.
Last year, lobbyists spent about $435,000 attempting to influence policy in the state of Idaho. After sifting through hundreds of PDFs on the Secretary of State’s website, Idaho Reports could account directly for only about $12,000 worth of that almost half a million dollars.
Lobbyists in Idaho have to directly disclose only the names of public officials if the amount exceeds $110, but take this example; Tyrel Stevenson is a lobbyist for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. He spent about $26,000 on entertainment, food, and refreshment in the second month of the legislature. Assuming that money was equally divided amongst all 116 of the state and federal elected officials that would still add up to $224, double the required direct disclosure limit but names are not attached.
The majority of the $26,000 was spent on a 2018 event for legislators involving an entertainer called The Mentalist. “But yes, you’re right,” Stevenson said. “I should have listed the legislators. I did some bad math.” After Idaho Reports contacted him, Stevenson said he did not know of the error, but he will correct the report quickly.
When asked if he had received a call from the Secretary of State’s office about the error, Stevenson said, “I have not ever received a call on a lobbying report. No one has ever been called.”
Stevenson isn’t the only person wining and dining elected officials in Idaho. Last year, politicians received a free lunch to the tune of $267,254, and the names of the beneficiaries were almost entirely unreported.
Idaho statute says “A public official shall not take any official action or make a formal decision or formal recommendation concerning any matter where he has a conflict of interest and has failed to disclose such conflict as provided in this section.”
Legislators in the Idaho statehouse routinely rise from their seats and declare they have a conflict of interest on issues before them. They do not, however, disclose conflicts due to receiving gifts or benefits from lobbyists. The disclosure of this conflict is the responsibility of the lobbyist, according to Brian Kane, Chief Legislative Counsel at Idaho Attorney General. That means the only record of possible conflicts of interest hide in these cryptic PDF’s.
That’s what we don’t know. What we do know is that Idaho had some significant spenders last year, and the primary piece of legislation that was fueling the dinners and drinks was Marsy’s Law. Lobbying for this single piece of legislation topped $48,000 and put a couple lobbyists on the top of the spenders’ list.
The dispersal of disclosed money trends Republican. Almost 85 percent of the directly disclosed money went to Republican politicians in Idaho, but that shouldn’t be much of a surprise given the Republican dominance in the state. What was somewhat surprising was the top recipient in 2018 based on these disclosure forms was Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra who banked over $3,400 in lobbyist money from natural resources groups. That amount is almost 30 percent of all the direct disclosures we could find.
The amount of money spent lobbying in Idaho is bucking the apparent national trend.
As more and more money is dumped into political campaigns, the amount of lobbying money paid and then disclosed in Idaho is going down. 2018 had the least amount of lobbying money in the past five years.
If you want to play around with the database we built up click on the chart below and explore for your self.