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More last-minute campaign $$: Otter collects, Balukoff antes, PACs start swapping money around…

Oct. 24, 2014 2:43 p.m. - Updated: 5:08 p.m.

On the last-minute campaign cash front, A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor, had the biggest numbers today, not only collecting two more $1,000 contributions but also putting another $345,000 of his own money into his campaign. That brings him up above the $2 million mark for the personal funds he's put into his campaign for governor. Meanwhile, Gov. Butch Otter reported another $13,500 in major contributions, according to 48-hour notices filed with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office; that included $5,000 contributions from Hewlett-Packard Company PAC and from Marian Zubizareta of Boise. The other candidate with a 48-hour notice filed today was Democratic candidate for Secretary of State Holli Woodings, who reported $3,500 in new contributions, including $2,500 from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.

Several new independent-expenditure notices also were filed today. The Idaho Realtors PAC reported spending $4,750 on literature, postage and advertising in support of Rep. Cindy Agidius, R-Moscow, who is locked in a tight rematch race with Democratic challenger Paulette Jordan, who lost to Agidius two years ago by just 123 votes.

Two PACs that were among several used two years ago for a controversial money-shuffling maneuver to underwrite unsuccessful efforts to defeat several Republican incumbents are also starting to shift money around again: GUN PAC reported spending $1,166 for literature on behalf of Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston, and transferring $2,000 to Free Enterprise PAC for advertising. Meanwhile, Free Enterprise PAC reported spending an identical amount, $1,166, on literature on behalf of Stevenson, and transferring $1,500 to Idaho Chooses Life for advertising.


State’s legal bill for same-sex marriage appeals tops $80,000, still growing

Oct. 24, 2014 1:57 p.m. - Updated: 2:08 p.m.

Idaho’s legal bill for challenging a federal judge’s decision overturning the state’s ban on gay marriage has now topped $80,000, and that was before Gov. Butch Otter’s latest appeal to the 9th Circuit. In response to a public records request, Otter’s office has released an Oct. 7 agreement with Washington, D.C. attorney Gene Schaerr to pay a flat fee of $10,000 for two specific legal briefs: One appealing to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay, to keep its decision legalizing same-sex marriage in Idaho from taking effect; and another appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court for the same thing.

Both were filed, and both were unsuccessful; same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho on Oct. 15.

Prior to that, Idaho had spent $71,477 to challenge U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale’s May 2014 decision overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, $66,920 of that for outside lawyers hired to represent Otter. The bills for the stay requests bumped the total up to $81,477, including $76,920 for private attorneys.

Since then, Otter has filed a petition with the 9th Circuit requesting an en banc review, a review by a larger, 11-judge panel, of that court’s earlier ruling by a three-judge panel. Otter also filed a motion for permission to exceed the 15-page limit on such petitions; the court granted the motion and allowed Schaerr to file a 35-page brief on behalf of Otter. The 9th Circuit has now asked the plaintiffs in Idaho’s same-sex marriage case to file a response to Otter’s petition within 21 days.

The governor’s office has not yet responded to requests for information on costs for that legal action. Earlier, in the state’s appeal to the 9th Circuit, Otter was represented by private attorney Monte Stewart, who charged the state $250 an hour. Stewart has withdrawn from representing Idaho; Otter replaced him with Schaerr.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden also participated in the original appeal to the 9th Circuit, but did so using staff attorneys, so there were no outside legal bills. Wasden has announced he’s planning to file an additional appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming weeks.

The state also could be on the hook for the plaintiffs' attorney fees and costs for the original federal case, since the state lost; a pending motion asks the U.S. District Court to order Idaho to pay nearly half a million dollars.

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AdWatch: Otter hits back at Balukoff, defends handling of prison scandal

Oct. 24, 2014 12:22 p.m. - Updated: 12:27 p.m.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has launched a new TV ad striking back at Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff, and defending Otter’s handling of a prison scandal. It’s the first time that Otter’s campaign has directly mentioned Balukoff in one of its ads, though two outside groups have been running ads attacking Balukoff and trying to tie him to President Barack Obama.

“This may be as good of evidence as we have that this may be a closer race than at least one or two polls have indicated recently,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics. He noted that Otter’s name recognition in the state, as a two-term governor, is close to 100 percent, while Balukoff came into the race virtually unknown outside the Boise area. That would normally prompt a well-known incumbent to avoid giving a little-known challenger any free publicity.

Balukoff, a Boise businessman, is the longtime chairman of the Boise school board; Otter served three terms in Congress and 14 years as lieutenant governor before becoming governor.

Otter’s ad is a direct response to a new commercial Balukoff launched last weekend criticizing Otter’s handling of the state’s troubled contract with private prison firm Corrections Corporation of America; both ads are running statewide, including in the Spokane broadcast TV market. CCA, which until July 1 was being paid $29 million a year to operate the state’s largest prison, was at the center of multiple lawsuits, reports of violence so intense that the prison was dubbed “Gladiator School,” and evidence that CCA had fraudulently overbilled the state for thousands of hours of guard duty that were never worked. In early February, the state dropped all claims against CCA in the staffing dispute in exchange for a $1 million payment.

Weatherby said, “I think the question a lot of viewers might have is: What was dishonest in the Balukoff ad? What are they specifically objecting to? And it’s not clear in this ad.” Balukoff’s ad called the settlement with CCA a “sweetheart deal.” Otter's ad doesn't mention the settlement. You can read my full AdWatch story here, along with links to both ads.

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Crane drops plan to challenge Bedke for House speaker

Oct. 24, 2014 7:31 a.m. - Updated: 7:32 a.m.

House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, has decided against challenging House Speaker Scott Bedke for the House’s top leadership post, Idaho Reports co-host Melissa Davlin reports today on her blog; you can read her full report here. Crane had said earlier this year he was considering a challenge to Bedke, but now says he wants to remain as assistant majority leader.

Legislative leadership positions will be decided during the Legislature’s organizational session, which is set for Dec. 4, after the November election.


Otter met with CCA officials about understaffing issue in 2013, before recusing himself

Oct. 24, 2014 7:25 a.m. - Updated: 7:27 a.m.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who said in two recent debates against challenger A.J. Balukoff that he “recused” himself from settlement talks with the Corrections Corporation of America over understaffing and falsified staffing records at an Idaho state prison because he’d received campaign contributions from the firm - $20,000 since 2003 – participated in meetings with CCA about the issue as recently as 2013, the Idaho Statesman reports today. Reporter Rocky Barker and Cynthia Sewell report that Otter’s former chief of staff, Jason Kreizenbeck, now a lobbyist for CCA, brought the company’s CEO, Damon Hininger, and other CCA executives to Otter’s office on May 28, 2013 to discuss the company’s state contract and the staffing issue.

Mark Warbis, Otter’s communications director, said CCA officials asked for the meeting to apologize for the understaffing and fraudulent billing that later led to a $1 million settlement with the state, and to ask about extending their contract to run Idaho’s largest state prison. “The governor responded that our intention instead was to consider putting the contract out to bid,” Warbis told the Statesman. The newspaper’s full report is online here.

Warbis told the Statesman that Otter recused himself from settlement talks when formal talks started in 2014. CCA had offered to settle the matter with the state for $170,000 prior to the May 2013 meeting, Warbis said. During the meeting, he said, “CCA might have mentioned that offer, but there was no additional discussion of it.”

Last night, Otter’s campaign launched a new TV ad responding to an ad from Balukoff critical of Otter’s handling of the CCA issue; I’ll have a full AdWatch story later today examining Otter’s new ad.

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Of endorsements and JFAC…

Oct. 24, 2014 7:07 a.m. - Updated: 7:14 a.m.

Two Idaho news outlets have been fact-checking GOP schools superintendent candidate Sherri Ybarra’s claim in a televised debate this week that she has the backing of the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Both found the claim false, documenting that just a few members of the 20-member panel have endorsed Ybarra.

Here are links to the reports from Idaho Reports co-host Melissa Davlin, who also explains the role of JFAC in the public school budget; and from Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin, who reports that Ybarra’s website lists endorsements from 16 of the state’s 105 legislators and two members of JFAC. The Ybarra campaign also sent Corbin an email claiming endorsements from five other JFAC members; that would still be just seven of the 20 members, and just seven of the panel’s 16 Republicans.



ACLU: Hitching Post falls under religious exemption, no challenge planned

Oct. 23, 2014 3:30 p.m. - Updated: 3:31 p.m.

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho says it will not challenge a northern Idaho wedding chapel's refusal to conduct gay marriages because the chapel falls under a religious exemption. Interim Executive Director Leo Morales said in a news conference Thursday that the Hitching Post became a religious corporation in Idaho nearly a month ago. Morales says the ACLU believes that under that exemption, the chapel does not have to comply with the city of Coeur d'Alene's ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation because the chapel only provides religious services. A Christian religious rights legal organization filed a federal lawsuit last week against the city contending the chapel could be compelled to perform gay marriages under the city's anti-discrimination ordinance. Gay marriage became legal in Idaho on Oct. 15.


Balukoff explains the bow ties…

Oct. 23, 2014 3:16 p.m. - Updated: 3:20 p.m.

A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, stopped in at the paper's Coeur d'Alene office for a quick Q-and-A with D.F. Oliveria, who writes the S-R’s Huckleberries Online blog. Among the questions he fielded: “What’s with the bow tie?”

“I like bow ties,” Balukoff said. “They’re more festive. I know how to tie them. And I don’t have to worry about the tie getting in my soup.” You can see Oliveria’s full “five questions” interview here; it appears he actually asked eight questions, some more serious than others.


Last-minute campaign money flying

Oct. 23, 2014 1:43 p.m. - Updated: 4 p.m.

It’s that time, the period shortly before the election when things happen quickly. Campaign contributions or independent expenditures of $1,000 or more now have to be disclosed within 48 hours. There are three independent expenditure notices thus far: The “American Comeback Committee Idaho PAC,” which is affiliated with the Republican Governors Association, has reported spending $33,645 on Monday for literature/printing in support of Butch Otter and against A.J. Balukoff, all paid to Paces Direct LLC in Atlanta, Ga.; the RGA already has run two TV ads in Idaho attacking Balukoff.

And the Idaho Republican Party has reported a $24,871 independent expenditure for broadcast advertising in support of Butch Otter, through a payment to Strategic Media Services Inc. of Arlington, Va. Party Executive Director Dave Johnston said that’s for a new radio ad the party is launching touting Otter, to run in selected markets around the state. “We put together a radio ad that talks about pro things about our governor, so that’s hitting the airwaves,” he said. There may or may not be more to come. “We’ll see,” Johnston said. “We’re adjusting on the fly … as the campaign cycle gets closer and closer. … So it depends on how the remaining week goes.”

The third independent expenditure report, from “Idahoans for a Strong Economy” and benefiting candidates Talkington, Burgoyne, Kloc, McCrostie and Wood, reports $1,870 spent for a mailing.

Meanwhile, as of mid-afternoon today, Otter has filed 48-hour reports showing eight contributions totaling $27,000, including $5,000 each from the Idaho Republican Party, Babcock & Wilcox Co. of Lynchburg, Va., Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers of Washington., D.C., and Val Holms of Helena, Mont. Balukoff has filed 48-hour reports showing four new $1,000 donations, plus another $100,000 of his own money that he’s kicked into his campaign.

Lawerence Denney, the GOP candidate for Idaho Secretary of State, reported two $5,000 contributions, one from the Idaho Republican Party and one from Richard Larsen of Rexburg. And Jana Jones, the Democratic candidate for state superintendent of schools, reported a $1,000 contribution yesterday from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, while GOP rival Sherri Ybarra received $5,000 yesterday from the Idaho Republican Party. Also, state Treasurer Ron Crane reported a $5,000 donation from Richard Larsen Farms in Rexburg. You can see the statewide candidates’ filings here, and the independent expenditure reports here.


Thousands of Idaho high school seniors to participate in Idaho Mock Student Election

Oct. 23, 2014 11 a.m. - Updated: 11:01 a.m.

More than 3,000 high school seniors are registered for the Idaho Student Mock Election, Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa announced today, and high school government teachers still can register their students through Oct. 30. The mock election, which has been held in even-numbered election years since 2004, will run from Oct. 26-31; students will cast votes for actual statewide candidates on computers in their classrooms.

“I commend all the students and teachers participating in this statewide voting exercise,” Ysursa said. “The mock election experience will encourage our young citizens to become lifelong informed voters. It is gratifying to see students exercise their right to vote and their participation is a strong indication that the democratic process is alive and well in Idaho.”

Results from the mock election will be posted Nov. 3 on the Secretary of State’s website; the exercise allows high school government teachers in Idaho to develop civic education lessons based around the Nov. 4 general election.  For more information, contact the Secretary of State’s office at jmairs@sos.idaho.gov or 334-2852.

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