- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 12, 2017

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney told lawmakers Wednesday that if a company wants to try to buy a lawmaker with campaign contributions then the public should have easy access to those records.

Denney added that he would be fine if there were no limits on campaign contributions because courts have consistently ruled the government can’t restrict the public’s First Amendment rights. Furthermore, the Republican election chief stressed that the system could benefit with having more transparency and possibly harsher fines for campaign violations.

Currently, Idaho limits campaign contributions for statewide candidates at $5,000 and caps legislative candidate contributions at $1,000. Campaign violations hover around $250 in civil penalties.

“There’s a lot less money that’s coming directly to candidates. A lot more of the money is being spent by independent expenditures,” Denney said. “I think that’s a change that we probably need to address in the sunshine laws, because it’s really not reported.”

Denney made his remarks Wednesday while listing possible changes to the state’s Sunshine Law - passed by overwhelming popular vote in 1974 that set many of the rules used today to govern campaign contributions and lobbyist activity disclosure - during the first meeting of the Campaign Finance Reform legislative panel.

Earlier this year, House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill announced they were forming a work group to find ways to increase transparency in the timing and reporting of campaign activity surrounding candidates, political action committees and lobbyists.

Bedke and Hill also instructed the 10-member group to look at requiring personal financial disclosures for state lawmakers and implementing laws that prevent elected officials from immediately moving into similar roles in the private sector, also known as “revolving-door” policies.

During Wednesday’s meeting, several lawmakers on the committee bristled at Denney’s remarks. Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, of Ketchum, countered campaign limits are important to reduce the risk of corruption and should not be removed.

Meanwhile, House Majority Caucus Chair John Vander Woude, of Nampa, argued he had never seen campaign contributions influence a lawmaker’s decision.

“It bothers me a lot that people think we can be bought,” Vander Woude said.

In 2016, ethics and campaign disclosure advocates attempted to get a voter initiative on the November ballot that would have drastically changed candidate donations limits, increased penalties for campaign violations and ban certain gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers.

The initiative failed to get enough signatures, but Denney has since come out in favor of many of the reforms proposed and has urged the Idaho Legislature to take up the cause.

The legislative panel will meet again in August to review legislative proposal from Denney and discuss possible other recommendations before finalizing a report for the 2018 legislative session.

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