Politicians use Idaho event to secure lavish vacations, and it’s all legal

Wayne Hoffman Articles

Yes, Donald Trump arrogantly proclaimed before a national TV audience that Hillary Clinton “had no choice” but to attend his wedding because of his previous contributions to the Democrat’s foundation. Here’s Idaho’s own version of the “Trump wedding.” It happens every year, and incredibly, it’s perfectly legal.

Right around Labor Day, state and local politicians and government bureaucrats are invited to a swanky weekend getaway, where they get to participate in golfing, shooting and fly fishing. They stay at resort accommodations, alternating annually between Coeur d’Alene and Sun Valley, are wined and dined and pose for pictures with the governor.

The event is the Idaho Governor’s Cup, a charitable event billed as a college scholarship fundraiser for Idaho school children. But that’s not all it is. It’s also an “opportunity” for businesses to show their support for the event—and by extension, Idaho’s ruling class—by giving generously to the cause.

Businesses such as CenturyLink, Blue Cross of Idaho, Simplot and Micron put up $25,000 to $35,000 to sponsor the event. Other businesses give smaller amounts. Many event sponsors are active in one form or another in Idaho’s political scene. The board of the Governor’s Cup is made up mainly of Statehouse lobbyists.

Additionally, businesses pay big bucks to sponsor the attendance of state senators and representatives, as well as other government officials, including the superintendent of public instruction and Department of Insurance director. Some lawmakers even beg businesses to buy their entry.

State law lets Idaho politicians and government officials accept the gift of a resort vacation. Theoretically, if a lobbyist is paying for the trip, it’s supposed to be noted on lobbyist expense reports. Fun fact: that report isn’t due until well into the next legislative session. For voters wishing to know which lobbyists are courting their Idaho lawmakers with all-expense-paid luxury vacations, good luck trying to find the data on disclosure forms filed at the secretary of state’s office. It’s a challenge, to say the least. And if you do what IdahoReporter.com reporter Dustin Hurst did recently, in which he asked state legislators to simply fess up as to which companies paid their way, you’re likely to not get an answer.

But disclosure is only part of the problem. Let’s say you are Donald Trump. You’re simply interested in keeping the channels of communication open. As Trump put it, “When (politicians) call, I give. And you know what, when I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them. They are there for me.” Under state law, an elected official or bureaucrat can’t accept a gift in exchange or an official action, such as approval or disapproval of legislation or a government contract. But proving that a politician acted, didn’t act, approved or disapproved of a bill or agreement because of some trip offered (or maybe not offered) some months or years in the past is next to impossible to prove. Two or three years later, Donald makes a call. Did his gift help or hurt? Similarly, does Governor’s Cup sponsorship help Chobani or Clif Bar keep their special lucrative tax breaks? Does Medicaid billing processor Molina benefit by paying for lawmakers to attend the event?

The blame for this lies with the politicians, not necessarily with the event sponsors and lobbyists who are trying to protect their clients’ interests by participating. I don’t even blame the Governor’s Cup or its primary objective of providing scholarships for students. State law has made the event into an annual opportunity to win favor, acceptance, gratitude and support from people in power, and politicians like it like that. It’s legalized bribery. At least with Trump’s wedding, Trump is willing to admit that the system is screwed up.