The money race: Five takeaways

The big campaign finance reports are in: the pre-primary reports were due Tuesday, one week before the primary elections. I broke down the numbers in detail earlier this week. Here’s a closer look at the takeaways:

The visible Republican rift. It was widely assumed that these reports would illustrate the battle within the Idaho Republican Party. They did, not that this is a surprise. Every statewide race features a conservative candidate backed by the Republican Liberty Caucus of Idaho, and several of these candidates are taking on well-established incumbents.

But the sunshine reports show who’s siding with whom, and expose those decisions for the Idaho political world to see. And nine sitting lawmakers have donated to state Sen. Russ Fulcher’s challenge to Gov. Butch Otter — the kind of donation that isn’t quickly forgotten. Consequently, as the Spokane Spokesman-Review’s Betsy Russell reported Thursday, Otter is endorsing five GOP challengers to lawmakers endorsing Fulcher.

Denney’s fundraising. The only one of the Liberty Caucus candidates to enjoy a fundraising edge is state Rep. Lawerence Denney, one of four GOP candidates for secretary of state. Of course, this is an open race: Unlike Fulcher and several of his allies, Denney hasn’t faced the obstacle of outraising an incumbent.

That said, the $150,103.13 raised by Denney far outstripped his opponents.

And it’s readily evident that Denney’s March 29 fundraiser, featuring cast members from the A&E series “Duck Dynasty,” provided Denney a bump. Denney reported receiving close to 600 individual contributions on March 29, the day of the event. Many contributions were in the $94 range — the cost of two $47 tickets to the event.

Senate leadership stays neutral. Remember 2012, when Bob Nonini got his time in the state Senate off to an awkward start by contributing to challengers of sitting senators? Apparently, all is forgiven. Nonini received contributions from all four members of Senate GOP leadership — including Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, who publicly criticized Nonini for weighing in in the 2012 GOP primaries.

It appears, by and large, that Senate GOP leaders are consistently backing incumbents from the caucus. One notable exception: Fulcher, the GOP caucus chair, gave $500 to Danielle Ahrens, who is running against state Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint.

Big education players. Melaleuca Corp., the Idaho Falls personal products company that contributed heavily to the failed Proposition 1, 2 and 3 campaign, gave $5,000 to Otter. CEO Frank VanderSloot and his wife Belinda matched this with $5,000 apiece in personal donations. Melaleuca also contributed $5,000 to Melba superintendent Andy Grover — the only one of the four GOP state superintendent’s candidates who says he supported Props 1, 2 and 3.

Syringa Networks — the company that has taken the Otter administration to court  over the beleaguered Idaho Education Network broadband contract— was also active. Syringa gave $5,000 to Fulcher. Syringa also has been active in legislative races, contributing $500 to Senate Education Committee chairman John Goedde, a key skeptic of the broadband contract; $500 to Idaho Falls GOP Rep. Jeff Thompson, a Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee member facing a stiff primary challenge; and $400 to Nonini.

Democrats’ showing. Overshadowed by GOP primary politics is a solid fundraising period for  Democrats.

With $51,404.31, Jana Jones outraised all four GOP state superintendents’ candidates — and running unopposed, she comes out of the fundraising period with more cash on hand than any of her would-be rivals.

Gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff raised $282,687.54 — not close to the $460,000-plus Otter has raised so far in 2014, but well ahead of the $152,000-plus raised by Fulcher. And Balukoff, a Boise School Board member and prominent businessman, has the means to subsidize his own campaign, kicking in $71,000 in April.

Secretary of state’s candidate Holli Woodings raised $69,825.65. That’s not close to Denney’s numbers, but since Woodings is unopposed, she has more cash on hand than any Republican in the race.

These numbers suggest that Democrats could be competitive in the money race come fall. And these numbers are especially significant since the Idaho Education Association’s political action committee — a potential donor for Democrats — has so far stayed out of the state races.

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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