Following the September special session of the Idaho Legislature, 91 lobbyists were fined by the Idaho Secretary of State’s office for filing late reports, public records obtained by the Idaho Capital Sun showed.
While the session lasted a single day on Sept. 1, when the Idaho Legislature passed a $1 billion bill that included a tax cut and a $330 million increase for K-12 education funding, most registered lobbyists were still required to submit a report about any related lobbying activities they might have participated in around the session, even if the report showed no activity. As of Nov. 18, there are 393 registered lobbyists in Idaho, meaning about 23% of the registered lobbyists were fined.
Sheryl Millard, an elections assistant in the Idaho Secretary of State’s office, said the office notified lobbyists of past due reports primarily by email.
“Our lobbyists are normally very responsive and file their reports on time. When we saw this anomaly, we took additional steps to reach out to them, be it by additional emails and phone calls,” Millard said in an email.
The office declined to comment on how many of the fines had been paid as of Friday, and declined to comment on whether the process could be improved moving forward.
According to emails sent to the affected lobbyists, the report was due Oct. 15, and per Idaho Code, a fine of $50 is assessed each day the report is late. Those fines are also applicable for campaign finance reports that candidates must file monthly according to election cycles.
While 13 of the fines were $150 or less, the rest were a flat $300 after the secretary’s office decided to reduce what were initially $700 to $900 fines.
“Due to the unique nature of the special session and the confusion created by the additional required report, we have reduced the fine assessed from $700 to a flat fine in the amount of $300, but only if the fine is paid by Friday, November 18, 2022,” one email read.
The total amount of the fines after they were reduced is $24,100, which goes into Idaho’s general fund.
‘I felt like the process could’ve been improved,’ former Boise lobbyist says
Annie Hightower, who was a registered lobbyist for the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence until Nov. 4, said her initial fine was $900 because the reminder emails were sent to an email she could no longer access after she left the Coalition for a new job.
Hightower said she thought she had terminated her lobbyist registration as well but had not, so she accepted some fault for the issue, but said the secretary’s office could have a better notification process.
“I finally got notice that I hadn’t filed a report through a robocall,” Hightower said. “Knowing they’re using a robocall system to notify people, that seems like it could’ve been used earlier.”
She said the initial fine was upsetting, particularly since it would have affected the nonprofit organization.
“I felt a responsibility there, and I felt like the process could’ve been improved to give notice for those of us who, for whatever reason, failed to file the report,” Hightower said.
Others who were fined $300 include Attorney General-Elect Raúl Labrador and Tom Arkoosh, who were both campaigning to be Idaho’s next attorney general in September. Former Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, was also fined as a lobbyist for logging industry organizations, and lobbyists for the Idaho 97 organization and the Idaho Association for Commerce and Industry — Michael Satz and Amos Rothstein, respectively — were fined as well. Branden Durst, who represented Boise as a senator before becoming a Republican and running in the primary for superintendent of public instruction this year, was also fined as a lobbyist for the Idaho Family Policy Center.
Secretary of State-Elect Phil McGrane said the fact that so many lobbyists were fined signals a problem with the process. After he takes office in January, McGrane said he plans to look at how the secretary’s system could be more efficient and customer service friendly.
“The first goal should be to make it easy for users to comply and make it transparent, and then we focus on enforcement,” McGrane said.
The fines seem especially significant because statute around other violations does not prescribe such steep penalties, such as the $250 maximum fine levied against former gubernatorial candidate Ammon Bundy for not labeling campaign advertisements in compliance with the law.
KELCIE MOSELEY-MORRIS – In The Idaho Capital Sun