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GOP operative dissolves Idaho PAC, money flows to new group

An Idaho political action committee backed by a top Republican strategist and fundraiser has dissolved, according to documents filed with the secretary of state’s office.

Now, big bucks are being directed to the new Idaho First PAC by donors who include the father of Idaho gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist.

Campaign finance disclosure reports posted on the secretary of state’s website show Idaho First collected a total of $261,000 in 2017.

The activity reported to the state’s elections office highlights the often confusing movement of campaign cash and shines a light on who really helps get candidates elected.

For example, Carl Forti, a GOP operative who worked with the pro-Mitt Romney group Restore Our Future, filed paperwork in August to create Building Idaho’s Future Inc.

At the time, Forti’s office declined to say who would get the support of the PAC, but it was believed to be backing a gubernatorial candidate in the May 15 primary. Then it was dissolved on Feb. 5.

Forti’s office has not responded to repeated phone messages seeking comment on the decision.

Records show that Forti’s PAC received a $100,000 donation from the Idaho Land Fund, an organization overseen by J.B. Scott — chairman of the prominent J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.

More than $91,000 of that September donation was returned to Scott in November. Roughly a month later, Scott contributed almost that same amount to Idaho First — a political group launched just four days before Scott got his refund.

Idaho’s open gubernatorial seat will be one of the state’s most competitive races in 2018. It has attracted the GOP’s top contenders after Otter said he will not run for a fourth term.

Other GOP candidates include Lt. Gov. Brad Little and U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador. Collectively, all three have raised millions of campaign dollars and are on track to make 2018 one of the most expensive election years in Idaho’s history.

Betsy Monson, chair of Idaho First, declined comment Thursday and said she wasn’t taking any media questions regarding the PAC.

Along with Scott’s $91,000, records show it also received $100,000 from John T. Ahlquist Jr., father of candidate Tommy Ahlquist, a first-time political candidate who partnered with his father on commercial construction projects in Boise.

In Idaho, individuals can only give statewide candidates $5,000 during the primary election cycle and $5,000 during the general election cycle. However, there’s no contribution limit on how much people can give to a PAC.

Fundraising totals by Idaho First are unusual compared to more modest campaign funding throughout the Gem State.

Of the nearly 150 registered PACs in Idaho that are not associated with a political party, only the Idaho Credit Union Legislative Action Committee had outraised Idaho First.

That means Idaho First in just one month had outraised a PAC previously established by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and various pro-business lobbying PACs in the state.

Until it directed $100,000 to Idaho First, the largest contribution by the Idaho Land Fund was $10,000 to the Idaho Republican Party a year ago.

Attempts to contact Scott’s office, as well as the registered lobbyist for the Idaho Land Fund, have not been returned.

John T. Ahlquist Jr. is not recorded as ever giving to a state candidate before his hefty donation to Idaho First, according to the secretary of state’s contribution database.

Through December, Idaho First had spent roughly $57,000, with $20,000 going toward research consulting and $29,000 to production costs. It still had $203,000 in the bank.

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