BOISE, Idaho (AP) — As the buildup to the 2018 election begins to accelerate, Idaho's 30-year-old ethics laws are facing scrutiny as top candidates wrestle with how much of their finances they should disclose to voters.
Idaho is one of just two states that don't require elected officeholders to disclose any of their personal financial information. This means the state's elected officials can weigh in on public matters without sharing whether their wallets might benefit from them.
Overhauling the system has become just as elevated as other traditional talking points - such as health care, education and job creation - in the race for governor. With Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter announcing he won't seek a fourth term, the race is expected to be Idaho's most competitive of 2018.
Political newcomer and GOP gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist recently released his economic assets to fulfill a campaign promise that he would disclose any potential conflicts of interests. The release wasn't as detailed as federal economic disclosure requirements, but the move was still considered significant because Ahlquist is the first Idaho candidate in recent history to voluntarily hand over financial information.
Ahlquist has vowed Idaho's lack of disclosure requirements will come to an end if he's elected.
Opponent U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador has been quick to point out Ahlquist failed to mention possible liabilities - which is required for congressional members. Labrador has been required to submit a much more vigorous personal-asset disclosure since being elected to the House in 2010.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Brad Little's campaign team confirmed Thursday Little plans to release his economic assets in the coming weeks.
Little and Labrador have voiced support for more transparency in government, but neither has specifically championed changing Idaho's personal disclosure laws.
"It makes sense to put a focus on transparency as an outside candidate," said Jaclyn Kettler, a Boise State University political scientist. "And while it puts some pressure on the other candidates, I think it's important to look at the presidential election and see that voters still elected Donald Trump even though he didn't hand over his tax returns."
Unlike Idaho, most state legislatures have passed laws requiring elected officeholders to file some type of financial disclosure. Michigan is the only other state that lacks such rules after Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed an ethics reform bill earlier this year.
Disclosure requirements typically involve revealing income sources, business associations and property holdings. The minimum amounts on what must be disclosed vary from state to state.
For example, Ahlquist's campaign has pointed to Utah as its model of what Idaho's disclosure laws should look like. Utah requires lawmakers to reveal employer information and job title, income sources of $5,000 or more annually, as well as investments worth $5,000 or more.
Idaho passed its Ethics in Government Act in 1990. The law directs lawmakers to declare a conflict of interest, but it does not ban them from voting on an issue that may personally benefit them. Failure to disclose a conflict is a civil offense that carries a fine of up to $500.
Separate from the political races, the Idaho Legislature has tasked a bipartisan panel with submitting recommendations on possible changes for lawmakers to consider during the 2018 session. The panel has focused on campaign finance reforms, but Republican Rep. Tom Loertscher of Iona has suggested legislation that would mimic Utah's personal financial disclosure requirements.
The panel meets later this month to consider Loertscher's proposal. But even if the Idaho Legislature advances a proposal in 2018, the law wouldn't take effect until July - after the May GOP primary, the more competitive election in Republican-dominant Idaho.