The Bedke bucks, and other ‘member-to-member’ campaign contributions

On April 6, House Speaker Scott Bedke kicked $1,000 into the campaign coffers of Rich Wills, a longtime colleague who chaired the House’s Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee.

On May 17, Wills lost his bid for an eighth term — an upset loss in a Republican primary long on surprises.

On Sept. 27, Bedke contributed $500 to Christy Zito, the Hammett Republican who knocked Wills out of office.

Speaker of the House Scott Bedke
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley

These “member-to-member” contributions are hardly unique, and Bedke isn’t the only Idaho legislator who believes in sharing the campaign wealth.

But no one is more serious about it than Bedke, R-Oakley.

In the latest campaign finance reports, which were due Monday, Bedke reported 36 donations to Republican House candidates, totaling $18,750. During the primary season, Bedke supported 21 House Republicans facing primary challenges, including Wills.

Bedke did not immediately respond to an interview request Tuesday, so the backstory of the Zito donation remains a bit of a mystery. But the contribution was boilerplate of sorts. Bedke made 34 identical $500 donations this reporting cycle. He gave $1,000 to Rep. Steven Miller, a Fairfield Republican facing a big-money race in a swing district in the Magic Valley; and $750 to Tabby Jolley, who is challenging five-term Democratic Rep. Sue Chew in a blue legislative district in Boise.

Bedke can contribute to other Republicans, in part, because his own legislative seat is safe. He was unopposed in the Republican primary, and has no opponent in the fall election.

The member-to-member donations offer an inside glimpse into the state of the 2016 legislative races, four weeks before Election Day.

For example, Republicans seem particularly concerned about select swing districts. Running in West Boise’s District 15, a competitive district where Democrats hope to make inroads in 2016, incumbent Rep. Lynn Luker has contributions from more than a dozen House colleagues.

Two Boise Democrats in party leadership, Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb and Rep. Mat Erpelding, are actively supporting candidates statewide. Both have supported Miller’s opponent, Kathleen Eder of Hailey. They’re also focusing dollars in urban districts in Coeur d’Alene, Boise, Lewiston and Twin Falls — where Democrats are hoping to either hang onto seats or score a breakthrough in November.

Still, some contributions seem to have little to do with the November election.

For example, some of Bedke’s money went to Republicans who seem to face only token opposition next month. Zito could be one of them, if the latest sunshine reports are any indication. Her Democratic opponent, Mary Ann Richards of Homedale, raised and spent no money in the filing period ending Sept. 30.

If Zito wins on Nov. 8, one of her first votes would be cast several weeks later — in a closed House GOP caucus. She would have a say in Bedke’s bid to stay on as House speaker.

Intraparty politics is sometimes a motivation in member-to-member donations, said Jaclyn Kettler, a political science professor at Boise State University. Donors sometimes hope to help their parties win elections. Sometimes, donors are simply trying to increase their own influence.

Member-to-member donations are more common in other states, Kettler said. But she cited Otterpac, Gov. Butch Otter’s newly formed fundraising apparatus, as a sign of a changing landscape.

“It’s starting to creep into state politics,” Kettler said during an Idaho Press Club conference Saturday.