Friday, October 31, 2014

Who's Funding the Idaho Governor's Race?

Posted By on Fri, Oct 31, 2014 at 12:46 PM

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter was in the hot seat at the final gubernatorial debate Thursday night, Oct. 30, when both challengers - Democrat A.J. Balukoff and Libertarian John Bujak - hammered the incumbent over his involvement with staffing scandals at former Idaho prison operator Corrections Corporation of America.

The state settled with CCA for $1 million after it was revealed in 2013 that the private-prison company had been understaffing the Idaho Correctional Center while falsely reporting that shifts were being covered: In total, nearly 4,800 hours during a seven-month period. CCA was ultimately removed as manager of the ICC and is currently under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Balukoff came out swinging with the accusation that Otter had appointed “his buddies” to oversee the settlement, which Libertarian candidate John Bujak agreed went too easy on the company—a hefty donor to Otter’s campaign.

According to campaign finance records, Otter received a total of $10,500 from Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA from 2009-2012.

For his part, Otter said he recused himself from the settlement process because CCA had donated to his campaign, and the terms could change depending on the outcome of the federal investigation.

“Even if your friends are cheating the state, you’re still the governor,” Balukoff said.

With a few days remaining before the Tuesday, Nov. 4, election, here’s a look at some of the other big donors in the governor’s race:

Otter is by far the most connected politician running for state office, and some of his major corporate donors put the “party” in party politics.

  • Altria Corporate Services (tobacco): $6,500
  • Anheuser-Busch/Anheuser-Busch Companies (beer): $8,000
  • Coca Cola Company: $5,000
  • IDWDA-PAC (Idaho Beer and Wine Distributors Association): $7,100
  • Intermountain Racing and Entertainment (gambling): $2,500
  • Reynolds American (tobacco): $3,500
  • Stein Distributing (alcohol distribution): $4,700

Most interesting are Otter’s large donations from out-of-state gambling interests. Las Vegas gambling and entertainment moguls Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta (whose wealth is pegged by Forbes at $1.5 billion each) both gave Otter $10,000 and another $10,000 from their jointly owned gaming chain Station Casinos, which operates Zuffa LLC, the parent company of Ultimate Fighting Championship, which the brothers also own, kicked in another $10,000 for a Fertitta total of $40,000.

Las Vegas-based casino and hotel operator Wynn Resorts has also been kind to Otter, with a donation of $10,000 from the company and $10,000 each from billionaire owner Steve Wynn and his wife, Andrea, who own a home in Sun Valley. That’s a Wynn win of $30,000 for a grand gaming/blood sport total of $70,000.

According to a January story from former Statesman political reporter Dan Popkey (now chief flack for Congressman Raul Labrador), Otter’s big gambling payday came in December 2013 when he appeared with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at a campaign event hosted at the Wynns’ Sun Valley home.

Otter’s campaign coffers are also well filled by the energy, oil and gas industry.

  • Alta Mesa Services (gas extraction): $10,000
  • Honeywell International PAC (a heavy hitter in the world of nuclear power): $10,000
  • Idaho Petroleum Marketers Association PAC: $2,000
  • Sinclair Oil Corporation: $10,000
  • Snake River Oil and Gas: $2,500
  • Truet-Tristen Bloxsom Trust (Texas-based oil and gas drillers): $5,000

Finally, aside from agribusiness concerns like Simplot ($10,000) and Monsanto ($5,000), Otter has also received support from the likes of Christian Right icon Foster Friess ($6,000), the NRA Political Victory Fund ($5,250) and Idaho’s richest man, Melaleuca founder Frank VanderSloot and his wife, Belinda ($20,000, total).

Balukoff’s large campaign contributors are decidedly less diverse. Among them:

  • Tommy Ahlquist: $5,000
  • Communication Workers of America: $1,000
  • Idaho State AFL-CIO: $2,350
  • Political Action Committee for Education: $2,500 
  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 449: $5,000
  • Iron Workers Local 732: $5,000

The biggest donor to Balukoff has been Balukoff, loaning himself more than $2.7 million.

Bujak, too, has been his campaign’s biggest supporter, with a loan of $10,000.

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