UPDATED: The third-party PACs: Where they spent, and how they fared

(UPDATED, 12:11 p.m., June 26, with additional spending by Make Liberty Win, reported to the state on June 20.)

Third-party groups spent roughly $2 million in May’s Republican legislative primaries — but all the money had, at most, a hit-and-miss impact at the polls.

The big spenders poured tens of thousands of dollars into unsuccessful campaigns against incumbents, or failed efforts to keep sitting legislators in office. And in an election that saw the Legislature’s GOP caucuses move to right, conservative third-party groups scored more successes at the polls.

To gauge the impact of the third-party spending, Idaho Education News analyzed dozens of campaign finance reports, crunching the numbers on where the groups spent their money. State law requires the groups to report spending for or against a candidate.

Focusing on five groups — including two groups on either side of the debate over private school choice — EdNews tallied up their spending by candidate. Using these numbers, EdNews then assigned the groups an unscientific “success rate.” If the group spent money supporting candidates who won, or if spent money opposing candidates who lost, that improved its success rate.

Here’s what we found:

Idaho Liberty PAC

Funded largely through mainstream GOP donors aligned with Gov. Brad Little, this group spent $711,000 from January through May, mostly in an attempt to oust four first-term hardline conservative senators.

The group’s top 10 list (campaign “successes” in bold face):

  • Sen. Tammy Nichols, Middleton (opposed): $92,432.
  • Sen. Brian Lenney, Nampa (opposed): $91,753.
  • Sen. Chris Trakel, Caldwell (opposed): $91,333.
  • Sen. Glenneda Zuiderveld, Twin Falls (opposed): $78,012.
  • Sen. Dan Foreman, Viola (opposed): $40,926.
  • Alex Caval, Senate candidate, Twin Falls (supported): $37,998.
  • John Shirts, House candidate, Weiser (supported): $23,446.
  • Lori Bishop, Senate candidate, Middleton (supported): $19,239.
  • Sen. Linda Wright Hartgen, Twin Falls (supported): $18,944.
  • Rep. Greg Lanting, Twin Falls (supported): $18,944.

“Success rate:” Idaho Liberty PAC spent $275,334 on the prevailing side of May’s primaries, for a 38.7% success rate.

Summary: Trakel was the Liberty PAC’s only Senate target that lost in May. The Liberty PAC spent an additional $18,140 supporting Caldwell Republican Camille Blaylock, who unseated Trakel.

Make Liberty Win

Based in Alexandria, Va., and tied to Young Americans for Liberty in Austin, Texas, this group spent more than $703,000 in May. The PAC supported hardline candidates, and spent heavily against the Legislature’s top two leaders.

The group’s top 10 list:

  • House Speaker Mike Moyle, Star (opposed): $112,852.
  • Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, Boise (opposed): $107,473.
  • Rep. Rod Furniss, Rigby (opposed): $34,570.
  • Rep. Julie Yamamoto, Caldwell (opposed): $33,325.
  • Rep. James Petzke, Meridian (opposed): $28,382.
  • Rep. Britt Raybould, Rexburg (opposed): $26,520.
  • Sen. Mark Harris, Soda Springs (opposed): $24,808.
  • Rep. Joshua Wheeler, Ammon (opposed): $23,267.
  • Lucas Cayler, House candidate, Caldwell (supported): $20,971.
  • Kent Marmon, House candidate, Caldwell (supported): $20,971.

“Success rate:” Make Liberty Win spent $318,108 on the prevailing side, a 45.2% success rate.

Summary: Moyle won, but Make Liberty Win had a hand in May’s biggest upset, the ouster of Winder, a powerful 16-year incumbent. Make Liberty Win doubled down in another upset — opposing Yamamoto, the chair of the House Education Committee, and backing Marmon, who unseated her.

Citizens Alliance of Idaho PAC

The Hayden-based group spent $398,656 in May, supporting hardline candidates.

The group’s top 10 list:

  • Joshua Keyser, Senate candidate, Meridian (supported): $30,522.   
  • Lenney (supported): $30,279.
  • Karey Hanks, House candidate, St. Anthony (supported): $27,879.
  • Rep. Jacyn Gallagher, Weiser (supported): $27,840.
  • Brenda Bourn, Senate candidate, Meridian (supported): $21,111.
  • Rep. Elaine Price, Coeur d’Alene (supported): $20,782.              
  • Rep. Kristina Lambert, Caldwell (supported): $18,612.
  • Clint Hostetler, House candidate, Twin Falls (supported): $14,815.
  • Bryan Smith, House candidate, Idaho Falls (supported): $14,739.
  • Nichols (supported): $14,589.

“Success rate:” Citizens Alliance spent $195,642 on the prevailing side, a 49.1% success rate.

Summary: Citizens Alliance’s top pick was Keyser, who unseated Winder. Lenney, meanwhile, won a spendy rematch against former Sen. Jeff Agenbroad of Nampa.

Idaho Federation for Children PAC

Funded almost exclusively by the American Federation for Children — a national group supporting school choice — this PAC spent $301,826 this spring. The Maryland-headquartered group backed lawmakers who supported a bill to shift public money into tax credits for private school tuition, and campaigned against three of the bill’s opponents.

Idaho Federation for Children’s spending (the group focused on seven incumbents):

  • Rep. Melissa Durrant, Kuna (opposed): $80,656
  • Rep. Kenny Wroten, Nampa (opposed): $73,370
  • Rep. Richard Cheatum, Pocatello (opposed): $63,546
  • Rep. Wendy Horman, Idaho Falls (supported): $48,214
  • Winder (supported): $19,630
  • Sen. Julie VanOrden, Pingree (supported): $16,282
  • Rep. David Cannon, Blackfoot (supported): $129

“Success rate:” Idaho Federation for Children spent $218,651 on the prevailing side, or 72.4%.

Summary: Durrant, Wroten and Cheatum drew the bulk of Idaho Federation for Children’s attention, after casting decisive votes to kill the tax credit bill in a House committee. Horman was one of the bill’s sponsors.

Right 2 Learn

Funded largely by the Idaho Education Association’s political arm, the Boise-based PAC described itself as a Republican group opposed to school choice. Right 2 Learn spent $136,383 in April and May.

The group’s top 11:

  • Sean Coletti, House candidate, Ammon (supported): $38,152.
  • Horman (opposed): $32,684.
  • Sen. Scott Herndon, Sagle (opposed): $6,381.
  • James Woodward, Senate candidate, Sagle (supported): $5,284.
  • Wroten (supported): $4,197.
  • Durrant (supported): $4,159.
  • Rep. Matthew Bundy, Mountain Home (supported): $3,211.
  • Sen. Geoff Schroeder, Mountain Home (supported): $3,211.
  • Blaylock (supported): $2,734.
  • Yamamoto (supported) $2,734.
  • Sarah Chaney, House candidate, Caldwell (supported) $2,734.

“Success rate:” Right 2 Learn spent $36,351 on the winning side, a 26.7% success rate.

Summary: Right 2 Learn’s top priority couldn’t be clearer. It went big on Coletti, the mayor of Ammon, who sought to unseat Horman. The group had better success doubling down on Woodward, who ousted Herndon.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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