COEUR d’ALENE — A movement calling for Idaho to join the rest of the states that require lawmakers to disclose information about their personal finances took a step backward Thursday.
The Idaho House State Affairs Committee killed a proposal by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, to introduce legislation requiring state, county and city candidates and elected officeholders to file personal financial disclosure forms.
Idaho and Michigan are the only two states where elected officials do not have to disclose their personal financial interests, a tool relied on by government watchdogs to flag conflicts of interest by lawmakers working on legislation.
“This is not a heartburn issue to me. It is not one of those things that I think is absolutely essential that we do,” Loertscher said, during the meeting that was live streamed by video from Boise and recorded. “But let me say this, financial disclosure of elected officials is in your future, because this will happen at some point.”
The proposed legislation, which was unanimously recommended by an interim committee, presents the least intrusive way to bring financial disclosures forward in Idaho, Loertscher said.
He cautioned that if Idaho lawmakers don’t create their own financial disclosure legislation, it will be written for them by the public, as an initiative on a ballot.
“And it will not be this kind or easy to do,” Loertscher said.
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, made the motion to shoot down the bill.
“To focus on legislator sources of income, spousal sources of income, is to put a target on our back to many groups and individuals nationwide that would work to silence various ideologies, various voices, by attacking the economics. We’ve seen it on a national scale with O’Reilly and Hannity,” Barbieri said.
Barbieri was referring to Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, two conservative talk show hosts.
Barbieri said that a week after some comments he made to a gun rights group were published in a newspaper, his wife was let go from the law firm she worked for.
“This is the type of thing we’re dealing with in today’s world. This is not benign. This information is used as a sword to attack sources of income of individuals wherein statements are made or ideologies are in play, to silence them,” Barbieri said.
The proposed legislation would have required all state, county and city candidates and elected officials to file forms disclosing their employers, businesses they own, other financial interests — stocks, board positions and corporate offices — and each entity from which they received more than $5,000.
“I just don’t think that this bill needs to see the light of day. Let’s deal with the initiative, when it comes,” Barbieri said.
Several committee members shared Barbieri’s concern about the draft legislation, primarily that it would require disclosure of elected officials’ spouses’ and household members’ employment and financial interests.
“I feel like we are on the edge of a George Orwell book, with thought police here, when we start asking people to divulge what they believe may at some point down the road become a conflict of interest,” said Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett.
A motion to introduce the legislation received just three positive votes, from Loertscher, Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello; and Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer.
Jordan said she felt it deserved more discussion.
Zito said she agreed with Barbieri, and that if people want to know about her financial interests, “They can ask.”
When it was suggested the legislation be sent back to be “cleaned up,” Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, said, “Improvement doesn’t change the fact that this is an inappropriate piece of legislation.”
Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, told The Press she hadn’t read the bill, but she heard rumors that people were unhappy with it, that it created some unintended consequences.
“I’m all for transparency, but there has to be some level of privacy for people to keep their families safe, but I don’t know how far the bill went.”