Elsewhere in this Sunday Opinion section, columnist Chuck Malloy quotes renegade state Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, attacking the legislative process, to the chagrin of a top lawmaker.
Scott misfires much of the time. When she calls the process “corrupt,” and complains about committee chairmen abusing their power by killing bills they don’t like, Scott is playing fast and loose with the facts.
But what has Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill steamed is Scott’s core indictment: Idaho lawmakers have been “bought-n-paid-for” by lobbyists and special interests.
“Of all the things that were said, I think that is the one that is most irresponsible,” Hill said. “Those are harsh words to level against your colleagues, particularly when you realize these are people you need to work with to be successful.”
So where would Scott get such an idea?
How about Hill’s campaign finance reports, for starters.
Madison County, which sends Hill to Boise, is one of the reddest — if not the reddest — counties in the United States.Last fall, Hill collected 83.6 percent of the vote against Democratic challenger Robert S. Nielsen.
Hill also out raised and outspent Nielsen better than 10-to-1.
Coming in and out of Hill’s campaign coffers last year was close to $65,000. He ended the year with nearly $43,000 in reserves.
Poor Nielsen came up with a little more than $6,100 and had a cash balance of $436.
Consider who provided Hill with all this cash. The list reads like a who’s who of corporate Idaho: Idaho Forest Group, CenturyLink, JR Simplot Co., Idaho Power, Micron Technology, Allstate Insurance, Monsanto, Farm Bureau, AT&T, Midas Gold, Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Chevron, Pfizer, Hecla Mining, Molina Health Care, Agri-PAC, as well as the lobbies representing bankers, real estate brokers, truckers and car dealers.
Not every lawmaker who faces no or only token opposition at home accepts these contributions. For instance, former Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, collected no money in his last four campaigns.
Why would so many corporate interests cut checks to a guy who doesn’t need the money to get reelected?
For one answer, consider how Hill spent that money.
He spread at least half of it among nearly 40 fellow Republican lawmakers.
Among those collecting the largest checks from Hill were Sens. Jim Guthrie, R-Inkom, Fred Martin, R-Boise, Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene and Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls.
Some of that makes sense. Martin won reelection in a squeaker. But others weren’t even close. Lodge got more than 77 percent of the vote. Grow came close to getting 70 percent.
Some of the people who received help from Hill — among them Sens. Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, Bert Bracket, R-Rogerson, and Chuck Winder, R-Boise — ran unopposed in the November election.
So what’s going on here?
Corporate Idaho is buying access to one of the most powerful, if not the single most powerful, legislator in the state.
It’s also helping Hill buttress support within his caucus, which he needs to hold onto his leadership post.
But it doesn’t explain everything. For instance, why would Hill’s campaign account cut checks to members of the House — such as House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, or Reps. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, or Gary Collins, R-Nampa?
Here’s one bet: No single source can contribute more than $1,000 in the primary election and then again in the general election to a legislative candidate. Providing gobs of money to a legislative leader such as Hill, who can then turn around and allocate it to like-minded Republicans, is one way to legally circumvent those spending limits.
All of which goes a long way toward explaining how the Idaho Legislature works, Hill’s protestations to the contrary.
Score this round for Scott. She may have been more right than she knew. — M.T.