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Big donations disclosed in lead up to Idaho primary

The Idaho Statehouse

The latest campaign finance disclosure reports show statewide candidates and political action committees have attracted millions of dollars of support for the much anticipated May 15 primary election. The financial disclosures released May 8 in compliance with Idaho’s sunshine reporting laws were the first peek into who has been backing top campaigns across the state since January. The next round of reports won’t be due until after the election.

The disclosures don’t include outside support from political action committees, which are spending millions to support various candidates. Here are some highlights from the reports:

GOVERNOR’S RACE DOESN’T COME CHEAP

The state’s top Republican and Democratic candidates raised nearly $6.6 million.

Lt. Gov. Brad Little in the Idaho Statehouse.

Republican Brad Little raised the most campaign cash — about $510,000. He also chipped in $800,000 of his own money. Little, a three term lieutenant governor, had $487,000 on hand. Nearly $60,000 of his individual donations came in large donations after the filing period, which ended in April.

In Idaho, any donation of $1,000 or more received after a filing period must be reported to the state within 48 hours.

GOP opponent and Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist raised more than $325,000 from donors, but he boosted his overall campaign funds by contributing $1.87 million of his own cash. He had a little more than $100,000 left.

GOP U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador raised nearly $395,000, and noted his multiple smaller donations as proof of his strong support from voters and not special interest groups. Labrador had nearly $269,000 left.

Paulette Jordan.

Raul Labrador

Democratic former state Rep. Paulette Jordan reported raising $388,440 made up from small donations and large contributions from multiple tribes across the country. Jordan also received a $5,000 last-minute donation from Jonathan Soros, son of liberal billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

Boise businessman A.J. Balukoff outraised Jordan by reporting $2.2 million, but the majority of that was his own money.

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PACS PACK A PUNCH

Political action committees also have been busy spending large sums on air time for advertisements and sending out mailers.

Idaho First PAC, a pro-Ahlquist group, raised $1 million and spent the majority on digital and television ads. The group has raised eyebrows after receiving large donations from Ahlquist’s father and J.B. Scott, chairman of the prominent J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.

The Independent Republicans of Idaho PAC is supporting Little with the help of big donations from conservation and firefighter groups, as well as two high-profile teachers unions — the Idaho Education Association and National Education Association, a group that hasn’t been involved in Idaho elections since 2012.

Tommy Ahlquist

Additionally, outgoing Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s PAC has put roughly $100,000 into supporting Little.

A pro-Labrador PAC known as Keep Idaho Strong has raised $79,000 from a handful of donors including Doyle Beck, an Idaho Falls businessman who often contributes to far-right candidates. Labrador has also received $100,000 in broadcast advertisements from the Protect Freedom PAC, dedicated to supporting allies of Kentucky Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.

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PUBLICATION’S KEY DONORS DISCLOSED

In early May, organizers behind a contentious publication called The Idahoan hinted the latest sunshine reports would reveal some of the key funders of their effort. The 48-page publication was mailed statewide offering voting guides on candidates and endorsements of far-right favorites.

The editors and publishers of the piece are longtime political consultant Lou Esposito and Patrick Malloy.

A.J. Balukoff

However, the key financial backers of the publication are Matt Rissell and Brandon Zehm, otherwise known as the co-founders of the time tracking software company TSheets, which is headquartered in Idaho.

The campaign reports show Zehm and a company registered under Rissell’s name each gave $100,000 in January to the Free Enterprise PAC.

The Free Enterprise PAC then turned around and used that money to help build the publication.

The Idahoan is currently under investigation by the Idaho attorney general’s office after the Idaho Democratic Party filed a complaint alleging the publication was really a cleverly disguised campaign mailer.

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