Gasp! Mike Simpson once saw the Rolling Stones (and more campaign broadsides)

The political silly season is off to an early start with the anti-tax group Club for Growth throwing its financial weight behind Idaho Falls lawyer Bryan Smith in his challenge to eight-term GOP Congressman Mike Simpson.

Among Simpson’s outrages, says the club, is attending a 1999 Rolling Stones show in the MCI Center skybox of a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm. Simpson and his Oregon colleague, GOP Rep. Greg Walden, paid $165 for the seats, a step they didn’t need to take under House rules.

Having ponied up for the ducats, it appears Simpson’s true transgression is showing an interest in Mick Jagger and the boys. Imagine the attack ad: A grainy photo of Simpson with longish hair, morphing into an obviously drug-addled Keith Richards. Both of them will have cigarettes, a habit Simpson has struggled to break.

You see, the Club also blasts Simpson for being one of House Speaker John Boehner’s close friends, and notes that Simpson and Boehner helped form a “smokers’ club,” akin to the crew sneaking a smoke in the parking lot in high school.

It’s unclear to me how it’s bad for Idaho that Simpson is pals with the most powerful Republican in the United States of America. But a 10-page news release on Tuesday included five entries on their relationship, bold-facing phrases including “key Boehner ally,” “closest friends,” “good friend,” “one of John Boehner’s ‘primary campaigners,’” and “John and I been close since I came to Congress.”

Perhaps Boehner also likes the Rollings Stones. Or maybe the Sex Pistols.

Club for Growth President Chris Chocola told me last week the group will  “spend as much as we can” to defeat Simpson for, among other things, breaking his 1998 pledge to never, ever vote to raise taxes. Simpson proposes erasing the deficit with a mix of spending cuts and tax hikes, with lower spending accounting for two-thirds of the mix, and revenue the other third.

Chocola’s not blowing smoke. The group spent almost $18 million on independent expenditures in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2006, it raised $1.1 million on behalf of Idaho’s Bill Sali, helping him win his single term in the 1st District.

The law bars the Club from coordinating with Smith, but their voluminous news releases give Smith a thorough look at the opposition research.

After the 10-page release on Tuesday, came a Thursday news release saying Simpson has an “atrocious record on school choice.” Simpson’s offenses: One, he has opposed school vouchers (which, it’s worth noting are unconstitutional, for religious schools in Idaho). Two, he has repeatedly been endorsed by the Idaho Education Association (The Idaho Teachers Union), including a nod over Democrat Nicole LeFavour last year.

What will be interesting to watch is whether Idahoans get frothed up about this stuff. Some of the Simpson record is real fodder: voting for the Wall Street bailout and stimulus and getting almost two-thirds of his campaign dough from PACs. But those issues were field tested by Simpson’s opponent in 2010 and 2012, Chick Heileson, who got 24 percent of the vote in the first race, 30 percent in the second. Simpson got 58 percent and 70 percent, respectively.

Much of the Club’s material is simply tone-deaf, including attacking his vote for a farm bill and for using his clout as an Appropriations subcommittee chairman. Perhaps the Club is insensitive to how important federal spending is in a district with an economy anchored by agriculture, Mountain Home Air Force Base and the Idaho National Lab.

Some of the flack seems silly or shopworn: holding fundraisers as Johnny’s Half Shell and the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, voting to raise his pay, opposing term limits.

Idaho voters affirmed the Legislature’s decision to repeal term limits and Idahoans seem keen to the notion that a small state must build seniority in Congress to compensate for its small numbers. (Perhaps the WASHINGTON, D.C.-BASED CLUB for Growth didn’t know about that, either.)

The Club’s anti-Simpson effort quickly drew a counter-attack from a centrist GOP group, the Main Street Partnership, which vows to match Club for Growth “dollar for dollar,” according to President Steve LaTourette, a recently retired Ohio congressman who also is friends with Speaker Boehner. I don’t know yet how prolific the Partnership will be in its campaign broadsides.

The primary is in May 2014 and we’re mindful of voter fatigue, as well as our reporting resources.

In the near term, our plan at the Statesman is to monitor what these independent campaigns are saying. When they make new news, we’ll pay close attention. When facts warrant checking, we’ll check. But when combatants rehash ancient history with rhetorical flourish best left to OVERHEATED fundraising letters, we’ll be a bit skeptical.




Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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