One thing can be said about Idaho politicians: They aren't the kind of folks who accept a gift and then never use it, or, even worse, re-gift it. These boys suckle every last drop out of every donation with all the enthusiasm of a hungry calf-even after they've announced they have no intention to run for office.
Late last year, Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne disclosed that he was significantly in debt from his 2002 gubernatorial campaign and would not seek re-election in 2006. However, he has continued raising money-over $60,000 so far this year-and can legally continue to do so until the filing deadline for candidates, in March 2006. According to campaign disclosure forms and a recent article in the Idaho Falls Post Register, Kempthorne has used these faux-campaign contributions from companies like Albertsons, the Washington Group, Tamarack Resort and several lumber companies to pay for everything from plane tickets to hotel bills to dinners and even haircuts-which, as anyone who recalls Kempthorne's bounced check fiasco from earlier this year is aware (BW, May 18,"The Governor Feels a Draft ... An Overdraft."), is code for hair restoration products. He also dipped into the war chest to pay for a $537.50 vehicle towing charge in California, prompting Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Richard Stallings to accuse Kempthorne of simply bolstering his annual salary with free money.
"It makes you wonder what these big corporations have in mind when they pour cash into the governor's slush account and then show up at the Statehouse asking for laws that would benefit them," Stallings said.
Is all this legal? Yes, thanks to vaguely worded Idaho election laws allowing campaign funds to be used for "any ordinary and necessary expenses associated with any public office the candidate may hold." But to back up Stallings' point, several of the large companies who have helped keep Dirk stay out of the proverbial debtor's prison have also benefited directly from Idaho's new business tax incentive legislation. That's not to mention a certain $1.6 billion roads plan (to cost more than $3 billion when finally paid off) featuring a new highway that will provide quick access to a certain ski resort with a certain kick-ass half-pipe.
Maybe Kempthorne developed his visionary financial model back when he was a U.S. senator. After all, his successor, Mike Crapo, has shown a similar propensity to open his metaphorical guitar case to anyone looking to make their voice heard in the political process. Last week in the Washington Post, it was reported that Crapo has sent a "lushly produced" DVD to lobbyists all over Washington, D.C., to advertise a summer retreat he has planned for them in Sun Valley later this month. The cost: $2,500 per stuffed shirt.
"We shoot all day. We fish all day. We ride horses all day. And then we finish the day with the best barbecue in the West," Crapo is quoted as saying. "Frankly, I think this is the best event in the country." When it comes down to it, isn't that what we're all looking for? Not just some plain old good event, but the single best event in the entire country?