Ada County’s local elections raked in big donations, with homebuilders and an associated political action committee making big contributions in the hopes of flipping several seats.
With less than two weeks to go, developers and homebuilders with deep pockets staked out different sides of the race. Several prominent builders, like Jim Conger, jumped in to support more conservative candidates. Also in the mix is the Building Contractors Association of Southwest Idaho’s PAC, which has given thousands across several campaigns in multiple races. The group also donated heavily to a different PAC running negative ads in one of the races for the Ada County Commission.
Some builders say they oppose moves to slow growth in far-flung areas of Ada County. They are campaigning hard for candidates with platforms of keeping costs down to construct and sell homes in subdivisions. Other candidates, and the more urban-focused developers supporting them, are hoping for a different direction. They envision a focus on development closer to the inner core, meaning lower costs for new services, and higher fees for developers building suburban sprawl to help foot the bill.
Lachiondo a target
Taking center stage is Republican Ryan Davidson’s bid to unseat Democratic incumbent Diana Lachiondo for a seat on the Ada County Commission. While Davidson himself only raised roughly $16,000 and received no direct donations from builders, he’s getting a boost from the Conservative Citizens for Thoughtful Growth PAC. The group, which raised $83,000 as of Oct. 27 is mostly powered by $60,000 from the Building Contractors Association PAC.
An ad from the PAC on social media criticizes Lachiondo for supporting “higher density, low-income housing,” closed schools and business, “crazy green policies” and a platform of “turning Idaho into California.” She fired back with her own parody ad, accusing the builders of spending big to remove her from office after she led the way for Ada County collecting impact fees for the first time.
On Oct. 27, the PAC took down the negative ads against Lachiondo due to safety concerns for her and her family, the page said. They came out against protestors visiting her home, but the PAC made it clear in the statement they still oppose her.
“We are still opposed to many of Lachiondo’s policies and believe if she is re-elected her policies will continue to harm our community,” the PAC’s Facebook page said. “There is a reason residents flee places like Portland, Seattle and most of California, once nice places to live, but now unsustainable due to policies of high-density housing, over-regulation, and government overreach by elected officials.”
In a news release earlier this month, she called the attack ads funded by the Building Contractors Association PAC ‘disappointing’ and untrue.
“I would challenge anyone to take a look at my record and find it to be ‘extreme’ or ‘dangerous.’ The truth is this: I put the people of Ada County over developer profits, and that was unforgivable to some big builders. The BCA and their contributors should be ashamed of themselves,” Lachiondo wrote.
Despite producing social media ads and promoting the Lachiondo ads on Facebook, no expenditures have been filed with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office as required as of Oct. 27. Conservative Citizens for Thoughtful Growth PAC Treasurer Steve Martinez did not respond to an interview request in time for publication.
Differing views on Lachiondo’s growth policies
Bill Rauer, executive officer for the Building Contractors Association of Southwestern Idaho, said only select builders in his organization voluntarily donate to the PAC and he has no say in political donations. He said his organization is not opposed to impact fees and a few members have volunteered to sit on the new impact fee advisory committee for Ada County.
But, he said Lachiondo’s concerns about how infrastructure is not keeping up with growth in unincorporated Ada County is frustrating to some home builders in the area who believe she opposes expansion in the Treasure Valley. When asked what specific anti-growth policies Lachiondo proposed, Rauer said he could not name a specific example.
“It’s just anytime you hear a variety of ideas saying ‘maybe we need to slow this down or stop in this area’ that’s what raises the ire when you hear someone say ‘i’m pro-growth’ and then talking about restraints at the same time,” he said of Lachiondo. “I think that confuses and has angered some of them. If you’re not angry, you’re not going to do that ad.”
Lachiondo has the backing of several large developers herself, including former 2018 Republican gubernatorial candidate and Ball Ventures Ahlquist principal Tommy Ahlquist. Other backers include David Wali, Clay Carley, and Harris Ranch developer Doug Fowler.
Ahlquist, who is running Lachiondo ads on the readerboards of his properties, knows and worked with Lachiondo for years in nonprofit work. He applauded Lachiondo’s business sense and work to “get that house in order” after years of what he said was financial mismanagement by Republicans. Ahlquist also echoed Lachiondo’s statement, saying builders are targeting her with attack ads to stop impact fees in the county.
“If you listen to…conservative talk radio, all of the far right conservatives have people come on and scream and yell and hate developers and they want them to pay their own way,” he said. “So now you have a Democrat commissioner who is requiring increased development fees out of developers and (conservatives) are going against her. Politics are strange.”
Wali, Executive VP at Gardner Company, who has mostly built projects inside the city of Boise, also praised Lachiondo. He called her approach to managing growth ‘thoughtful.’
“Everybody wants to be in the county because it’s a lower cost to the homeowner,” Wali said. “But at the same time that homeowner expects the fire department and the police to show up at the same rate as they would in the city, but who bears that cost?”
Homebuilders supported candidates in every race
Homebuilders also donated to Former Idaho State Senator Rod Beck’s bid for the open seat on the Ada County Commission against Democrat Bill Rutherford. Incumbent ACHD Commissioner Rebecca Arnold, candidates Kara Veit and Dave McKinney also received support from these companies, as well as campaign ads from the Conservative Citizens for Thoughtful Growth PAC.
Beck received a donation from the Building Contractors Association of Southwest Idaho directly, as well as support from over a dozen companies in the construction business, including planned community Avimor. He also had Conservative Citizens for Thoughtful Growth ads supporting his candidacy on social media. Four LLCs associated with Boise Hunter Homes also donated to Beck, but he returned the donation once he was informed a few weeks ago they were all associated with the same company and broke Idaho’s contribution limits.
He said because Boise Hunter Homes has multiple individuals associated with the company they thought they could give more than the state’s $1,000 limit for a corporation in this form. But, Beck said once the donors consulted with a lawyer and realized the mistake they took their funds back.
Beck opted not to return donations he received from both real estate consultant Dave Yorgason and his company Tall Timber Consulting, citing a 2016 email from former Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst to former Rep. Bryan Zollinger, which said this was allowed.
Donations over the legal limit?
Candidates also returned several contributions in the ACHD race due to some contributors giving more than the amount allowed under state law through LLCs, as first reported by BoiseGuardian.com. Incumbent Commissioner Rebecca Arnold returned several campaign contributions after it was brought to her attention some of the LLCs who donated the maximum amount were associated with the same individual or the same address.
“The questioned contributions came to me unsolicited from entities with whom I was not familiar,” Arnold said in a text message. “I have no way of knowing whether the questioned contributions exceed the limit or not, but I chose to refund them anyway.”
Arnold received $1,000 from C4 Lease LLC and $800 from C15 LLC, which both are associated with home builder Jim Conger, according to the Idaho Secretary of State’s website. Arnold also received $750 from G20 LLC and $1,000 Eagle1 LLC, which have the same P.O. Box in Eagle listed as their address.
Eagle1 is associated with Chris Nolan, with law firm Givens Pursley listed as the registered agent. Nolan’s professional affiliation and address are unknown. G20 LLC lists the same mailing address, but has Amy Kelley, with Blackrock Homes, as the registered agent. Blackrock Homes and Conger have collaborated on projects together before, with Conger developing projects and Blackrock as the builder.
Calls to Conger and Kelley about their campaign contributions were not returned.
Veit, a political newcomer trying to unseat incumbent Commissioner Jim Hansen, also returned several contributions. On August 19, she received $1,000 each from Ustick1, LLC and Hubbard1, LLC. Both LLCs are associated with Nolan and have the same P.O. Box in Eagle as G20 LLC and Eagle1 LLC.
Veit’s Treasurer Joe Freeman said after spending a few hours researching the LLCs, he was unable to determine the identity of the donors and opted to return both donations. He said Veit is also returning funds from Dave Evans Construction and RME Management who donated $1,000 each, but are associated with the same address and registered agent.
McKinney also received a donation from the Building Contractors Association PAC and Yorgason’s company. On Oct. 8, McKinney received two $1,000 donations each from Barber Valley Irrigation Company and Barber Valley Development Company. Both companies have Harris Ranch developer Doug Fowler listed as the registered agent and they have the same mailing address.
In a call Tuesday afternoon, McKinney said he believed the donations came from separate individuals, but he was looking into the matter.