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Some Idaho lawmakers, officials unwilling to disclose sponsors for posh weekend getaway

Some Idaho lawmakers, officials unwilling to disclose sponsors for posh weekend getaway

Dustin Hurst
October 6, 2015

A number of Idaho lawmakers and public officials won’t say who paid their tab to attend a posh weekend getaway in Sun Valley last month.

The group of the unwilling includes some of Idaho’s most powerful officials, including Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill, House Speaker Scott Bedke, House Health and Welfare Chair Fred Wood and House Minority Leader John Rusche.

Idaho lawmakers, officials and lobbyists, along with others willing and able to pay the bill, attended the 2015 Governor’s Cup in Sun Valley last month, an annual fundraising event that helps Idaho students pay for college.

Gov. Butch Otter, the third-term executive, hosted the confab, which featured golf, a wine obstacle course, a beer-related event, hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking.

The cover charge isn’t cheap. The event’s website lists golf at $1,500 for individuals, plus shotgun sports at the same rate. A “social participant” cost is listed at $1,300.

But many lawmakers didn’t pay their own way -- at least for the fun stuff.

The Governor’s Cup allows corporations and other groups to invite lawmakers and cover their costs -- a sponsorship of sorts.

Some lawmakers willingly -- after two emails, that is -- revealed their sponsors.

Rep. Mat Erpelding, a Democrat from Boise, attended as a guest of the AARP. The second-term legislator paid his own travel and lodging.

Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, played on Molina’s dime. Molina runs Idaho’s Medicaid processing system and is best known for its 2010 struggles with the contract. The company’s issues delayed payments to providers for weeks at a time.

Youngblood also paid for his own travel and lodging.

Coeur d’Alene Racing paid for Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, and Idaho Central Credit Union funded Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian. Both legislators paid their own travel and lodging.

Some lawmakers wouldn’t respond to three emails asking for their sponsors, including Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, and Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa.

Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, told IdahoReporter.com he had a sponsor, but didn’t reveal which entity funded his entry during an email exchange. Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, was supposed to attend, but canceled her plans at the last minute. She, too, had a sponsor lined up, but also declined to reveal the details.

The covert dealings extend into the executive branch, too. Department of Insurance Director Dean Cameron, formerly the state’s top appropriator in the Legislature, attended the confab, but his office didn’t respond to an inquiry asking for sponsorship details.

Other top state leaders were more forthcoming. Jeff Church, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Education, said the heavyweight Boise law firm Givens Pursley sponsored Sherri Ybarra’s attendance. Additionally, Church said Monsanto covered Ybarra’s lodging.

Idaho Department of Commerce Director Jeff Sayer was sponsored by PNGC Power, which administers a number of electric cooperatives in Idaho and other states.

Businesses and other entities paid a pretty penny to sponsor the event and include guests. Premiere sponsors spent $35,000 for the privilege, a fee which allowed the companies to invite 16 guests. Next-level sponsors spent $25,000 and were allowed 12 guests.

The lowest tier sponsors spent $4,000 and were allowed two guests.

CenturyLink, Mountain View Hospital and Mountain View Charity were the event’s 2015 premiere sponsors.

Other notable sponsors included Blue Cross of Idaho, Chobani, Molina, Idaho Power, Intermountain Gas, Avista, Monsanto, Regence and Micron, among others.
The Governor’s Cup used its proceeds from prior events to award 38 scholarships in 2015.

Note: Ybarra's spokesman, Jeff Church, said Avista didn't pay for Ybarra's lodging as he previously confirmed. The article has been changed to reflect Church's new information. 

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